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Photo from a small protest outside the book of Kells in September RollingNews.ie
Higher Education

'A dangerous precedent': Senators slam €214k fine for TCD students over Book of Kells protests

The Seanad’s civil engagement group claim the fine is “designed to produce a chilling effect”.

TRINITY COLLEGE DUBLIN (TCD) has set a “dangerous precedent” with its decision to fine the students’ union over protests outside the Book of Kells.

Students blockaded the entrance to the Book of Kells tourist experience a number of times in recent months over issues such as postgraduate workers’ rights, fee increases and the the college’s ties with Israel.

In response, the college has imposed a €214,000 fine on TCDSU, which politicians say will directly impact the union’s ability to provide important services, given it equates to more than 20% of the union’s annual budget.

The college said that it supports students’ right to protest “within the rules of the university”, but that interference with the Book of Kells “had a negative financial impact as visitors could not enter”.

“Trinity has an obligation to protect the Book of Kells which is a national treasure,” they said.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane, a former TCDSU president, says she’s “deeply disappointed” by the college’s “intimidation” of students. 

“Protest by its very nature is disruptive, but it’s an action which is both a constitutional right and a fundamental part of our democracy, and something we must always protect,” she said.

“I am particularly concerned that the College has invoked the Student Assistance Fund, a critical support for students experiencing financial hardship, as a manipulative tool in its communications with the Union, which risks creating division within the student body.”

The Seanad’s civil engagement group released a statement that claimed the fine was “designed to produce a chilling effect”.

The fine also “demonstrates a lack of concern for student welfare”, due to the risk it poses to the delivery of services, events and income for some students. 

College has ordered the union to pay the fine before the end of the month, or else individuals risk being disqualified from exams, losing access to their accommodation, or even being expelled from the university.

The Seanad group added: “Harshly targeting the representative body of the College’s students in response to peaceful protests is fundamentally in conflict with the principles of developing independent thinking or promoting academic freedom.”

‘Authoritarianism’

Independent Senator Tom Clonan believes Trinity must’ve been “under considerable pressure” to have reached the point of fining students.

He says the college’s concern with the financial implications of the protests is “telling” of how “precarious” its income is and a need for better state funding for universities. 

Clonan hopes some sort of mediation process can commence to avoid students having to pay the fine and the college having to further financially suffer.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith compared the fine for protesting to “authoritarianism”. 

“Privileged people have always wanted to stop protests with the threat of huge fines.”

She asked: “Is this tactic now to apply to all protests, including those of strikes and workers’ occupation?”

Smith highlighted that the fine imposed on the union, equates to the annual salary of Provost Linda Doyle.

“Here we have an over-paid university leader unilaterally imposing a fine on a student union whose officials earn only a fraction of her salary,” she said.

When asked to comment on the situation, the Department of Higher Education said that higher education institutions are autonomous bodies, and therefore “issues in respect of student services, including student unions, are an internal matter for the relevant HEI”.

In a statement last night, TCDSU said the fine is particularly concerning given the recent “repressive crackdowns” by universities on students in the United States.

Just this week, a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Columbia University in New York ended with riot police bursting into a building occupied by demonstrators and making hundreds of arrests.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, clashes broke out between rival groups at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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