The proposed cuts to St. Mary’s College – which threaten to force it to close after over 100 years – are an indictment of the devastating effects of Stormont’s austerity on our education system. Across the board, further and higher education institutions are facing a 10.8% funding cut. The additional loss of its £1.1 million premia grant, whch also effects Stranmillis, will mean St Mary’s faces a cut of up to 30%! While the Minister directly responsible for implementing these cuts is Stephen Farry, they are the result of budgets pushed through by the DUP and Sinn Féin. Recently, they agreed to destroy 20,000 public sector jobs, including hundreds of teaching positions. All parties in the Assembly Executive are responsible for austerity.
The campaign waged by students and staff in St. Mary’s College shows the opposition that exists to these devastating cuts and that there is the basis to build a real fightback. Protests of workers and local communities have already forced the politicians and management to back down on a range of cuts to vital health services, in Ballycastle, Bangor and Omagh. In 2010, militant student protest were key to stopping the scrapping of EMA and the hiking of tuition fees in Northern Ireland. The trade union movement is building for a day of action – including strikes and demonstrations – on March 13th. Students and all sectors hit by austerity should come out and support this action and turn it into the start of a sustained campaign to save public services, jobs and our future.
While Stormont politicians can posture as opposing this or that cut, the reality is that they are part of the problem. Sinn Féin and the SDLP pose as defenders of St Mary’s, but they accept the need for massive cuts. Unfortunately, they are able to get away with this due to the lack of a clear, independent lead from the students’ movement leadership. The politicians only quibble about how the cuts are distributed, often playing sectarian games of divide-and-rule. We reject the need for austerity. The wealth of the UK’s billionaires has quadrupled since 2008 while big business avoids paying £120 billion in tax. We need to build a new, anti-sectarian party based on workers, young people and genuine community activists to fight to make the super-rich pay for their crisis.