Student protests: Tanaiste refuses to rule out budget hike in fees as thousands march
TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore refused to rule out a hike in university fees today as thousands of students took to the streets to protest against potential increases.
Estimates have put the number of students marching from Dublin’s Parnell Square to Government Buildings at between 10,000 and 20,000.
USI president Gary Redmond said: “There are currently three choices for young Irish people – college, emigration or the dole.
“Any increase in college fees or additional cuts to student supports will ensure that a third-level education is not an option for thousands of young people across the country.”
Under fire in the Dail over third level education costs earlier today, Mr Gilmore would not reveal Budget plans for registration fees and maintenance grants.
The Tanaiste would only say a full review was under way to introduce a funding system to students that would ensure access is available to all.
"No Government is going to announce matters which are appropriate to the Budget in advance of the Budget," he said.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin accused the Tanaiste of being dishonest and reneging on his party's pre-election promise to protect students.
"That's deeply dishonest politics," said Mr Martin. "It really represents cheating on the students, cheating students to win votes before an election.
"And you haven't got the guts or the honesty to say here on the floor of the house what you're going to do when Budget comes."
However, the Tanaiste claimed the Government has taken every action to bring the economy forward.
"The Government is acutely aware of the difficulties that are faced by students and their families over the cost of third level education," he said.
Mr Gilmore said a full review of third level funding, which does not impact on access for students, is being carried out.
"The Higher Education Authority has recently furnished a report on the sustainability of the existing funding framework for higher education," he said.
"That was submitted to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn on Monday. The report examines inter-relationships between funding levels, the scale of growth and the maintenance of quality in the system.
"He just received that report and it's something that he is considering. That will obviously help inform the consideration by Government."
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the Government should be committed to keeping costs down to make sure it is open to all, given the importance of third level education to the recovery of the economy.
"If you agree, you should make it clear there will not be any increase on college fees and there will not be any additional cuts to student support," the Louth TD said.
The Tanaiste responded that Mr Adams could not comment on possible hikes in fees considering the role his party plays in Northern Ireland, where annual university fees are nearly 4,000 euro - more than double the registration fees in the Republic.
The Government revealed earlier this month that an adjustment of €3.8bn will be made in order to meet the country's EU/IMF targets to tackle the deficit.
Some €2.2bn of those savings will be made in public expenditure cuts and €1.6bn on taxation.