Protests, persuasion and violence
If like me you did not until recently know much about the political party or movement called Eirigi, then that gap in your knowledge is probably being filled fast. If you look at their website, you will see a photograph of Mary Harney (Minister for Health) splattered with red paint courtesy of Eirigi member Louise Minihan, and you will read their view that yesterday there was a ‘Garda assault on a student-led protest in Dublin’ (reported in other media as violence initiated by a small contingent, including Eirigi activists, who hijacked the USI-led protest against fees).
It is worth saying that, on the whole, Ireland has a good record of peaceful protest, which is one of the key civil liberties that should be protected and cherished in any democratic society. There have been occasions – particularly on May 1st demonstrations – when this freedom has been abused by groups often with ulterior motives, but we do not have the experience of regular violence on the streets that we sometimes see in other countries, including European countries.
In the context of yesterday’s protest march, we are told that groups such as ‘Free Education for Everyone’ (FEE), had ‘called for left wing support at the demonstration’ to overcome ‘the futility of marching from A to B and listening to the same speeches from aspiring politicians’, and the attempted occupation of the Department of Finance and the accompanying violence were the product of that.
Higher education in Ireland is in crisis and possibly in peril. One thing we manifestly do not need is violence that will further alienate citizens from the higher education sector – we know that cutbacks applied to universities and colleges are on the whole seen as appropriate by many people, and this kind of thing certainly won’t help. If demonstrations are about persuading politicians and people to change course, this was not the way to do it. I acknowledge fully that what happened was not intended by the Union of Students in Ireland; but they may want to re-assess their campaign in the light of it.