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Students protest outside Trinity College © RollingNews.ie
Protests

Where do these Irish universities stand on the Israel-Hamas conflict?

Students have criticised university administrators for inconsistent approaches to Ukraine and Palestine.

LAST UPDATE | 7 May

WITH STUDENTS AT Trinity College joining their American counterparts in establishing a protest encampment on campus in support of Palestine in recent days, renewed attention has been brought to the positions officially taken by Irish universities regarding the Israeli war on Gaza. 

Students and academics at a number of Irish universities have called on college administrators to take a firm stance on the current Israeli-Hamas conflict. Universities have been asked to reconsider relationships with Israeli companies and institutions, demands that mirror those in colleges across the Atlantic. 

Students at Irish colleges have also pointed to what they see as inconsistencies between university statements about Palestine and those made about Ukraine following Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022. 

UCD’s Students Union president Marth Ní Riada recently told The Journal that the university had organised fundraising events to send aid to people in Ukraine but that no such efforts had been made for Palestinians in Gaza, where almost 35,000 people have been killed in the last seven months. 

While there had been some hope of a ceasefire between the warring sides after Hamas approved a truce deal, Israel dashed those hopes by rejecting it and beginning its long-feared invasion of Rafah, where about 1.5 million people have sought refuge from the bombing.

So, where do some of Ireland’s universities stand on the conflict in which Israel has been accused of committing genocide? 

Trinity College Dublin

While Trinity College management had been reluctant to make a strong statement on the conflict in Palestine, recent pressure has led to some movement on the part of the prestigious Dublin university.

“Trinity respects the strong stance expressed by those participating in the encampment and the right to peaceful protest in accordance with College rules,” college management said yesterday.

Management said they “fully understand the driving force behind the encampment on our campus and we are in solidarity with the students in our horror at what is happening in Gaza”.

“We abhor and condemn all violence and war, including the atrocities of October 7th and the continuing ferocious and disproportionate onslaught in Gaza.

“The humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the dehumanisation of its people is obscene. We support the International Court of Justice’s finding that ‘Israel must take all measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide in relation to members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip.

“A real and lasting solution that respects the human rights of everyone needs to be found.”  

Yesterday, the college said it would set up a task force to consider links to Israeli universities and that it is divesting from investments in Occupied Palestinian Territories.

University College Dublin

University College Dublin’s president Orla Feely put out a statement in November that angered students for not being forceful enough and not calling for a ceasefire.

Feely wrote at the time that the college should not, in her opinion, take official positions on conflicts.

“Were it to be our practice to take an institutional position on geopolitical matters, we would be inhibiting the freedom of members of our community to express their individual positions and suppressing our ability to sustain and respect a diversity of views,” she said.

Feely’s statement focussed mostly on the atmosphere on campus, saying that “all members of our community have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. This is more important than ever at a time of division and polarisation in the wider world, when it is vital that we as a community maintain an environment of civility and mutual respect within UCD.”

Feely has not made a statement on the subject since November.

University of Galway

University of Galway president Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh made a statement on the conflict in October and then again in March.

Ó hÓgartaigh said that the college would “strengthen relationships” with universities in Palestine and review those with Israeli institutions.

“We welcome the Irish Government’s call for a review of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, as reported, ‘on the basis that Israel may be breaching the agreement’s human rights clause’ and will review our university’s relationship with Israeli institutions in that context.”

He said that the university is “a safe place for all” and urged people inside and outside the college to be “peacemakers”. 

Technological University Dublin

Students and teachers at TU Dublin sent a letter to college president David Fitzpatrick in February asking him to address the administration’s “ongoing silence” in relation to the conflict. 

In a reply sent to the Students Union, Fitzpatrick said: “My guiding principle is my belief that universities should take the lead in providing a neutral setting to bring all members of society into a conversation.”

Students and staff were unhappy with this response and pointed to the university’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Queen’s University Belfast

In March, Queen’s University president and vice-chancellor Ian Greer called for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. He also made reference to the lessons learned from the Northern Ireland peace process. 

“As the Head of a university that has a long history in promoting global peace and reconciliation, I have called for an immediate end to the conflict in Gaza with a humanitarian ceasefire so urgent aid relief can commence in the region. Dialogue must commence to secure a lasting peace and the violence must stop,” he said. 

“The lesson of Northern Ireland is that peace can be achieved with hard work and compromise.

“Our young people have no memory of the conflict and thankfully no experience of it either, which is an outstanding achievement for all our leaders past and present.

“Let’s hope for the same in the Middle East in the years to come.”

Dublin City University

Professor Dáire Keogh, president of DCU, has called for an immediate ceasefire and said that the conflict in Gaza has seen “unimaginable violence, cruelty, and loss of innocent civilian lives”.

He said the attack on Israel and taking of hostages by Hamas was “abhorrent”.

“What has followed, over 35,000 Palestinians killed, two million people displaced, and Gaza reduced to a wasteland is incomprehensible.

“Since the outbreak of the war I have repeatedly called for peace and an end to the horror in the region. Dublin City University calls for an immediate end to violence, the release of all hostages, and a permanent ceasefire. This has been communicated both to the university community, and publicly, most recently at our Spring graduations on 5 April.

“DCU has no university to university partnerships with any Israeli institution. The University also has no investments in Israel.”

University College Cork

In response to a letter from the UCC Students Union calling for an end its “silence on Palestine”, the university issued the following statement:

“UCC acknowledges the deeply distressing situation in Gaza. The events of 7 October in Israel and the ongoing crisis in Gaza are utterly heart-breaking and abhorrent.

“Our hope is for a peaceful resolution to the current conflict. UCC recently welcomed the Palestinian Ambassador to campus to discuss areas of mutual co-operation.

“UCC confirms that the university received the letter from the UCC Students Union today and the university is giving the letter its considered attention.”

UCC SU said in its letter that it would “escalate to further action” if the university does not accede to their demands, which include the college cutting ties with Israeli institutions, condemning the “genocide” in Gaza and calling for an immediate ceasefire. 

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