An Taoiseach Enda Kenny has agreed to meet with student representatives, after members of GMIT and NUI Galway Students’ Unions occupied his office last week.
Members of both unions chained themselves inside the Taoiseach’s constituency office in Castlebar last Wednesday. Having entered the office at 12pm, they were subsequently arrested at 2.30pm and remained in separate cells at Castlebar Garda Station until their release that evening at 5.30pm.
The student leaders were demanding a reversal of the three per cent reduction in the income thresholds for the maintenance grant announced in Budget 2013, as well as a meeting with the Taoiseach to discuss solutions proposed to make up the €7 million worth of savings that this measure will bring about in the New Year.
The SU members also wanted to highlight the impact of cuts to the Back to Education Allowance on mature students across the country, with a particularly large number of mature students enrolled in GMIT Castlebar, in Mr Kenny’s home town.
“Students and families across the country who have been battling through unprecedented hardship in light of the SUSI debacle, which has seen hordes of students still awaiting their first maintenance grant payment with Christmas just around the corner, are now faced with a further slap in the face in the form of this three per cent income threshold reduction,” said GMIT SU President Joe O’Connor.
“This will see an estimated 6,500 students stand to lose up to €750 in maintenance assistance over the course of the academic year on account of these measures. Hundreds will lose the grant altogether, which will inevitably result in them dropping out of college.”
The group said they were calling on the Taoiseach and his government to re-consider this measure, prior to the publishing of the new grants scheme for 2013-14, and seek to bring these savings about elsewhere in the Higher Education Budget as outlined in the USI ‘An Opportunity in Crisis’ pre-Budget submission.
NUI Students’ Union President Paul Curley added that the occupation was held to outline their “disgust” with the Government and “their ambition to ruin third level education in Ireland for both the current students, future students and the nation”.
“In recessions, governments normally protect education to help create future growth in the economy but Minister Noonan and his advisers seem to think that Ireland is a different kettle of fish altogether, putting more of an emphasis on emigration than creating jobs for our generation,” he said.
“I find it disgraceful that An Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte, both former SU Presidents of NUI Galway, have turned their backs on issues which they once fought tooth and nail for.”