Where Have All The Activists Gone?

The students, united, will never be defeated. The rallying cry of the Take Back Trinity campaign protesters bellows around the hallowed front square of Trinity College Dublin. The ever-present groups of tourists are, for once, not the first thing you notice when you pass through College Green. Now that the dust has settled following the decision by Trinity College Dublin to remove the supplemental fees following intense protests from a core group of students who simply could not afford to pay €450 if they failed an exam. They could not bear seeing their friends struggle to finance their way through college because of the one failed exam.

Were it not for the actions of the management staff in Trinity in implementing this €450 supplemental exam fee, with the ink not yet dry on the results of a referendum which clearly voted against the implementation of such fees by a considerable margin, we would certainly not be talking about such a large and vocal group of students standing ‘united’. The efficiency with which this group of students organised themselves into a group hell-bent on direct and radical action is the type of thing I have heard of in times gone by. The fear these students struck into the heart of the university management was something the current Provost Patrick Prendergast can never have expected to experience in his time.

I have heard rumours whispered from person to person out through the famous Front Gate of Trinity College that they protested outside a meeting Mr Prendergast was having with such vigour that he dared not leave for a full three hours following the meetings completion. He was trapped within those four walls with no access to any resources from the outside, much like how he reportedly repaid the protesters during their occupation of the Dining Hall. Restricting any access to the outside world whether that be to use the toilet or to allow food to enter. The support of the security deployed to ‘protect’ these students that was discussed on social media amounted to nothing as the Provost’s word was final. The support of security staff, lecturers, and dining hall staff may not have been capable of over-ruling the Provost but it did one thing for certain, it brought the university together ‘united’.

It is stories like these that will be told in years to come much like we hear stories of our own occupations down through the years in UCD. Stories of the SU famously fighting the good fight in the face of the law through famously distributing contraception in spite of their legal status in the Republic. These stories from within the walls of Trinity College already sound like folklore and the magic of them will only grow further as the roaring success of this radical activism in Trinity fades further into distant memory.

I fear these stories may be few and far between for our generation of students. Whether it be from the all-encompassing and emotionally draining nature of the Repeal campaign or simply just a lack of interest from the student body in social activism, somewhere in recent history students appear to have lost the fire in their belly.  At some point students appear to had been defeated.

The turnout for protests against fees in recent times by UCD students has shown the attitude of acceptance towards situations which are less than preferable to us. UCD have traditionally had some of the highest resit fees in the country. Combine this with an ever-increasing Student Centre Levy and UCD students are increasingly being forced to pay above the odds for their third-level education.

As recently as the start of this semester I myself was resigned to this simply being the case. That UCD students had no intention or interest in getting out on the streets, using their voice, and being part of radical change for the better. Whether it be for the protest against the inaction of the government in relation to the current homelessness crisis this coming weekend, a protest for improved healthcare for transgender folk, or the protest against student fees earlier this college year. Students of Ireland had shown time and time again their lack of interest in protest outside of the repeal movement. The passionate activism that students have become famous for had dissipated somewhat.

We are now building up to the long delayed UMT report publication on April 17th regarding the possibility of a decrease in the cost of re sitting an exam in UCD, as pushed for extensively by the current sabbatical team. With this report being released in the wake of the direct action undertaken by students in both Trinity College and DCU, there is a real opportunity for students to once again find their voice. UCD Fair and Free are a group who have been set up to do just that. They are determined to push for third-level education which is accessible for all, not just for those who can afford it, and they are determined to continue questioning the attitude within UCD of using students as tools for profit.

For this group to succeed there needs to be an extreme change in attitude within the student body and the SU corridor alike. Engagement currently in UCD between students and the Students Union is at a low-point, as I’m sure anyone who was at this year’s Hustings will have heard numerous times. It is time we as students buck this trend and come together united. It is time for the students to stand together and for us to not ask where the politically charged student activists has gone, but to discover the fire in our belly that we have so desperately missed in recent years.


Ailish Brennan – Features Writer

Be first to comment