OVER 1,000 students marched on North Kerry Labour TD Arthur J Spring's Tralee office on Monday in one of the biggest rallies held as part of a countrywide protest against budget attacks on third level fees and grants.
Evidence of increasing poverty among students - amid late grant payments, proposed hikes in registration fees and fears over the future of an emergency fund - was clearly outlined to Deputy Spring by the students.
The Labour TD was urged by the students to sign a pledge refusing to support the forthcoming budget in in the Dail. However, while Deputy Spring signalled his support for their calls, he said he was unable to sign a pledge that would ultimtely threaten the Government.
The Labour deputy meanwhile criticised the vocal presence of Kerry opposition TDs, South Kerry Independent Michael Healy Rae and Sinn Fein's Martin Ferris on the rally as being opportunist
. OVER 1,000 students from IT Tralee have marched on Kerry Labour TD Arthur Spring's constituency office in Tralee to show their anger over threatened hikes to college fees which they say will force thousands of students out of college and onto the dole.
Students' Union members heard harrowing stories of the increased poverty among students at a separate public meeting last week. As many students as came together from UCC and CIT on Monday for a similar protest in Cork, marched on Deputy Spring's office on Monday in Tralee.
"It's so bad now that some are blowing out candles before they go to bed at night as the electricity has been cut off because they simply can't afford to pay bills anymore," IT Tralee Students Union President Niall Harty said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of students in Tralee who have qualified for the grant are still waiting to receive any payment.
"We marched on three major concerns. One, the proposed hike in registration fees Minister Quinn said he will introduce in the coming year, secondly on the need to protect grant payments and thirdly on the continuation of the students' assistance fund."
There is no provision for the continuation of this fund after 2013. "It is vital and more and more students are relying on it now for paying bills and keeping a roof over their heads."
Students met with Deputy Spring and asked him to sign a 'pledge' not to support the forthcoming budget. Deputy Spring refused, but told students he would do all he could to support their calls.
Mr Harty said the union was not interested in being drawn into a debate about the ' hi-jacking' of the protest by TDs Michael Healy Rae and Martin Ferris, as Deputy Spring claimed.
"We're not really interested in the politics between the Kerry TDs, only for their support to improve the circumstances of students all over this country."
The USI claims that Tralee's local economy stands to lose an estimated €4.5 million over the next four years due to college fee hikes and cuts to the student maintenance grant. There are currently 3,178 undergraduate students attending IT Tralee with just over half of these students receiving a maintenance grant. STUDENTS from IT Tralee turned out in force this week to protest against proposed fees of €3,000 in 2015 as well as further grant cuts expected in next week's budget.
The protest comes as tens of thousands of students continue to wait for their student grants to be processed.
'No to fees or grant cuts' was the message in Tralee and it was heard loud and clear by Labour TD Arthur Spring whose offices were the venue for the action.
Joining the protest were Independent South Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae and Sinn Fein's North Kerry TD Martin Ferris and while the Labour man can be justified in his subsequent jibe that fellow TDs were "jumping on the bandwagon", as a member of a governing party there still has to be accountability.
While details of next week's budget are still unclear, it's almost certain that third level students will be hit hardest.
In a time when Ireland needs to invest in its young for the future recovery of the economy, next week's announcement could potentially be a major step in the wrong direction.
The recent change in the grant system has been roundly criticised as a mistake akin to the e-voting fiasco and now students face cuts the would undermine the ethos of free education with those who can afford less paying more for the right to an education. Increased charges should only affect those who can afford them but, as next week approaches, the worst is feared.
In times of austerity and rising unemployment, students are increasingly turning to further education, a right that is gradually being eroded by increased fees.
Images nationally of students holding signposts pointing the way to Sydney, New York and Toronto are worrying sights and a further brain drain is expected as emigration queues continue to increase.
This week's protest shows just how concerned students are and the IT Tralee students are following in the footsteps of protests across the country.
A healthy expression of their concerns, it is refreshing to see how many are prepared to lobby and voice their message.
The USI has already presented its own arguments against fee increases and grant cuts to the government, as well as alternative ways to fund third-level education.
Let's hope these will be taken on board when next week's budget is announced.