UP TO 500 students marched through Dublin last night in a peaceful protest against the behaviour of gardaí during a demonstration last week.
The protest, organised by two groups, Free Education for Everyone and Students in Solidarity, began at the Wolfe Tone statue on St Stephen’s Green, opposite the Department of Finance.
It was the scene of clashes during a 25,000-strong student protest against university fees last Wednesday.
Led by a banner which read “End Garda Brutality” and chanting “Whose streets? Our Streets”, the students last night marched to Pearse Street Garda station.
At one point a protester, dressed in a mocked-up Garda riot uniform which read “thug unit”, pretended to strike protesters with a fake baton.
Various speakers addressed the crowed, including Vanessa O’Sullivan, who was shown on YouTube and RTÉ being carried apparently unconscious from the Department of Finance at last week’s protest. “This day last week I was knocked unconscious by a garda . . . All I am guilty of is walking inside a public building and sitting down,” she said, to shouts of “shame” from protesters.
Ben McCormack, part of the Students in Solidarity group, who said he had been struck by a member of the Garda public order unit last week, said last night’s peaceful march showed that those present were not in favour of violence.
“It does show that we are not here to cause trouble. We are here to make a point . . . The vast majority did not want violence, they wanted to make their voice heard against this brutality,” he said. “An occupation is a legitimate form of protest and we shouldn’t have been forced out in the obscenely physical way which we were.”
Jonathan Adams of the Free Education for Everyone campaign, said students had been “beaten off the streets by the gardaí” during last week’s protest.
He said that media reports that supporters of Sinn Féin, the Socialist Workers Party and Éirígí had hijacked the protest were not reflective of the situation last Wednesday, adding that the Union of Students in Ireland, in particular president Gary Redmond, had abandoned its members.
“You can’t hijack a group of people. Over 1,000 students came up with us who weren’t affiliated to any groups and they took part in the sit-down protest at the Department of Finance . . .
“It was not just interested groups who were involved last week – it was over 1,000 students many of whom got hurt. He should have stuck up for his own members.”
Aoife Power said she was out marching having witnessed a friend being struck by a garda without provocation last Wednesday. “Until you’re there and you see your friend hit by a garda, you don’t understand the kind of fear you feel for a moment when the people who are supposed to be protecting you turn around and hit you for being a member of a crowd, for being a spectator,” Ms Power said.
While members of the Socialist Worker Student Society and the 32 County Sovereignty Movement were present at last night’s protest, they made up only a small proportion of the crowd.
USI president Gary Redmond, said the union did not support the protest and that events last night had nothing to do with its own planned protests in Galway on November 18th and Cork on December 1st. He said the actions of those who had occupied the lobby of the Department of Finance last week were the actions of a minority and “played into the hands of Government” as the media focus on the violence during the protest had taken away from the unprecedented crowds who had protested peacefully.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has received 28 complaints relating to the behaviour of gardaí following the November 3rd protest.
A Garda spokesman said he could not comment on complaints which had been referred to the Garda ombudsman.