Exclusive: FEE and USI meet to discuss city centre stand off
stuff sans-serif;”>The College Tribune has obtained a recording of a meeting held between prominent members of the Free Education for Everyone campaign and the Union of Students in Ireland following last Wednesdays’ protest. FEE were among a number of groups who publicly criticized the USI for allegedly not allowing them to fully take part in the “Stop Fees” demonstration.
The meeting took place last weekend in Galway where USI “Pink Training” was taking place. Both parties were aware the meeting was being recorded and the sound file of the meeting was provided to the College Tribune by a member of FEE UCD.
In the meeting FEE claimed they had been the victims of “political discrimination” at the hands of the USI. The group claimed that their members were refused access to the USI rally at Merrion Square due to their affiliation with FEE.
“We are very very unhappy at the events of the 16th. We were blocked from returning to the main march after we had a peaceful protest outside Fine Gael Headquarters. It is our belief, which I think will be confirmed by the evidence, that this occurred on the basis of political discrimination,” a FEE representative told USI President Gary Redmond and USI Deputy President, Colm Murphy at the Galway meeting.
The FEE representative went on to say that “people were selectively being barred from rejoining” the protest.
One FEE member also alleged that a USI steward said to them “we don’t want a repeat of last year, you’re not welcome.”
FEE claimed that by instructing students to form a block USI had actually put those students in danger.
“I would like to see an apology from the USI and I would also like to see disciplinary measures against anyone who over stepped the remit of their jobs,” a FEE member said.
Speaking to the College Tribune on Sunday Gary Redmond said, “during the meeting FEE also raised a number of concerns that they had about being refused re-entry into the protest on Wednesday. USI re-emphasied that the junction of Merrion Square and Merrion Street had to be kept open for emergency access and it was not an entry point and could be used as an exit in the event of an emergency. Any person wishing to join the protest had the ability to do so at the the rear from Clare Street.”
However in the meeting one FEE member claimed that they had not been informed that they could re-enter the protest by walking around the Square and claimed they had been “kettled” as USI and Gardaí were blocking one side of the street whilst Gardaí on horseback were blocking the other.
Redmond pointed out to the FEE members at the meeting that some of the stewards he had spoken to claimed they were intimidated by members of FEE. “Some of the guys who were there were verbally abused and had their photos taken and were told they would be put on the internet as a fascist, I don’t know I can’t prove it, all I have is hear say on that,” he said.
Colm Murphy pointed out that it wasn’t only members of FEE who were not allowed to use that entrance and Redmond reiterated the point that everyone was welcome at the protest.
Following a lengthily discussion on the events of last Wednesday the two groups discussed the relationship between USI and FEE more generally.
A FEE member pointed out that FEE are “more radical, it certainly believes in direct action as a valid tactic in fighting for free education.”
Redmond interjected, “we don’t disagree with that.”
The FEE member went on to say he hoped that USI and FEE could work together and that USI could use FEE “as a bargaining chip with government.” Both groups agreed that they had fundamentally the same objectives.
Colm Murphy pointed out that some prominent members of FEE “have posted on [the USI Facebook page] a lot of stuff about what USI officers have done and said that are factually inaccurate.”
Murphy said that a claim that the USI sleep out at the Department of Education cost €10,000 was “simply not accurate.”
Redmond pointed out that the USI was not against criticism once it was factually accurate.
Murphy pointed out that it was difficult for USI and FEE to work together as FEE “dont have a nominated spokesperson or a body of policy.” The FEE members present agreed to provide USI with a number of nominated FEE contacts who could speak for the group.
Another meeting between FEE and USI will take place in Galway in the coming months.