O Cuiv defends use of force on protester
MINISTER Eamon O Cuiv has insisted he was right to grab a protesting student after a noisy demonstration over education cutbacks turned nasty.
The Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister last night said he was forced to take action to protect his secretary from "assault" amid allegations she had been kicked and threatened with sticks by protesters.
But the NUI Galway Students' Union said it had witnessed no such attacks on Mr O Cuiv's secretary in what it insisted was a "peaceful protest".
Mr O Cuiv confirmed that he had "restrained" one student, but denied that he had manhandled or assaulted anyone during the incident on Tuesday evening. "I had to forcibly restrain one student as he was squashing my secretary and I in a corner. My secretary was very upset as this student had a piece of timber. I was right to protect my personal assistant from assault," he said.
Mr O Cuiv was accompanying Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe, who had travelled to Galway to announce Government sanction for a €50m engineering building to go to tender.
But around 50 students had gathered to protest at the possible reintroduction of fees for students. They blocked the two ministers from entering the college through one exit and then attempted to stop them entering through another doorway.
According to Mr O Cuiv's staff, his secretary was threatened, kicked and confronted by student protesters waving sticks. The secretary, who is in her mid-20s and from Galway, was also caught up in protests last week when a group of 30 students occupied Mr O Cuiv's constituency office in Galway city for more than an hour.
But NUI Galway Students Union President Muireann O'Dwyer insisted that there was "absolutely no kicking" at the protest. She also said that the stick visible in one of the pictures of the protest had contained a placard which had broken off.
"This was a peaceful protest," she said. "The first sign I saw of anyone getting aggressive was when the minister chose to manhandle the student."
She said the other students were "absolutely shocked" and many called for the minister to calm down and to release the student which he did after about a minute.
"It was unnecessary for the minister to engage physically with the student and really showed a lack of composure on his part," she added.
The unnamed student at the centre of the incident last night called on Mr O Cuiv to apologise.
The incident has caused embarrassment for the Green Party.
A number of members of the Young Greens were attending the protest and one of them emailed pictures of Mr O Cuiv at the protest to the media.
One of the organising groups, Free Education for Everyone (FEE), recently occupied the office of Green Party education spokesman Paul Gogarty.