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Saturday 30 August 2014

Egg-throwing students escape expulsion

Nicola Anderson

Published 14/02/2013 | 04:00

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THREE students who threw eggs at the Taoiseach during a visit to UCD have expressed relief after escaping expulsion by the university authorities.

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Suzanne Lee (23), from Belfast, Aidan Rowe (22), from Co Mayo, and Ben McCormack (24), from Chichester in England, were instead given a formal reprimand and a fine which was suspended.

They were also told they must write a letter of apology to UCD vice-president for students Martin Butler, who was hit on the head by an egg amid the melee.

The students said they had no problem apologising to Mr Butler, since they had intended to target Taoiseach Enda Kenny and not him.

However, they are standing by their "legitimate protest" and said they considered it a "victory for the right of students to protest on campus".

Relief

The three students had acted with the Free Education for Everyone (FEE) group in highlighting opposition to government cutbacks in student grants and the increase in registration fees during a visit by Mr Kenny to UCD last November.

Their actions were opposed by the Students Union since Mr Kenny was there as their guest, attending the opening of the new Student Centre that day.

The students appeared before a preliminary disciplinary hearing at UCD yesterday.

Mr Butler would ordinarily have been present on that committee; however he stood down to maintain the impartiality of the hearing.

About an hour later, the students emerged and spoke of their relief. Mr Rowe said they considered this a victory for "the right of students to protest on campus".

"We'd encourage other students to take protest actions in the future against the Government that seems intent on cutting back access to further education, stripping universities of assets in order to pay back debts of bondholders and bankers etc," he added.

Meanwhile, he said the students would be "apologising to Martin Butler but we won't be apologising for the protest itself. It was a legitimate protest".

Ms Lee said they had always made it clear that Mr Butler had never been their intended target, adding: "Our target was Enda Kenny."

She said that while she was glad the process was over, in reality, she might not be back in college next semester anyway due to the rising cost of the fees.

When she first started college, the registration fees were just over €1,000 but they are now up to €2,250 "which will more than likely just keep going up," she said, adding that there was "no way" she could afford that.

Mr McCormack said he was very relieved they could put the incident behind them but said they would "hopefully keep fighting for free education at all levels and particularly the cutbacks in third-level education."

A spokesperson for UCD would not comment following the hearing.

Irish Independent

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