Fermanagh students protest against cuts to EMA

Youth Fight for Jobs and Education held a protest against cuts to EMA in Enniskillen on Saturday 9th March. The protest was organised by local young people who attended a meeting on Wednesday 20th February to discuss action they wished to take in light of the proposed cuts to EMA. Individuals from a variety of backgrounds attended – there were representatives from Mount Lourdes, Collegiate Grammar, Erne Integrated College and South West College among others. It shows that this is a cut which affects people from all parts of the community, regardless of religion or politics. Fighting this cut together is a common goal uniting segregated groups. This meeting was extremely positive and emphasised the spirit of young people in Fermanagh prepared to fight for their rights. We as a group decided that a protest would be the best way to raise awareness of the cuts and to gather support for the campaign. Everyone at the meeting agreed to distribute leaflets and posters to spread the word about the protest. This was very successful and people were enthusiastic.

The protest was also a great success; we had a strong level of support and received a very positive reaction – over 100 signatures for our petition in just over an hour and a half! A majority of people felt our protest was justified and that our cause was a worthwhile one. This shows the growing agitation people feel towards fickle politicians such as Stephen Farry and John O’Dowd, both of whom promised no cuts to EMA in the May 2011 election.

It was good to have people talking, even if they weren’t positive. The main aim of our protest was to raise awareness, after all. Walking down the street, I overheard a group of women talking about EMA; one of whom exclaimed, “Why do they need an incentive to go to school? They should go for the education if they want to be educated. We never had any EMA.” This made me realise how easy it is for people to remove situations from the social and economic context of the time.

Tuition fees were first introduced in 1998 with students having to pay up to £1000 as a means of funding undergraduate courses in university. These women appeared to be aged approximately thirty, give or take a few years,  so evidently when they were eighteen, the situation was very different to what students are faced with now; considering going to university in 2013 involves fees amounting to almost £30,000 worth of total debt at the end of an undergraduate course. It isn’t difficult to see why students might not be inclined to stay on in education, and I believe this makes an incentive in the form of EMA vital, to avoid masses of young people feeling completely hopeless about their future. The fact is that society changes and thus, neoteric people exist in different circumstances with different pressures, needs and social constructs.

It is beyond me how so often people of older generations regard younger groups as “wasters” without looking at the social conditions which create such a lack of opportunity and atmosphere of nonchalance. Students are discriminated against in innumerable ways. If I walk into a shop in school uniform, a security guard is likely to follow me, simply because I’m a student. The money students are forced to pay for a tertiary education; the discrimination of the youth and stereotypical image of us all as delinquents. It is not our fault, that we receive this tarnished image; nor is it our responsibility to deal with it. Society views us not as individuals deserving of encouragement to become future doctors, teachers, and leaders, but as a mass of uncontrollable pests, almost. This is where the attitude against EMA stems from – the idea that students are not worth it. People who could – and should – be the leaders and helpers and innovators of the future are simply not worth the one thing that exists to encourage them to actually develop themselves from a system which works so harshly against them.

We should not be forced to pay for the crisis which the rich are to blame for. That is why we are fighting so passionately for EMA to stay – this cut is just one of several current attacks on education, and there are many more to come in the future. We need to stand up to the Assembly politicians and let them know we won’t play their games. A lot of hard work lies ahead of us, but fighting for something creates its own rewards. Young people need to fight for their future, and this campaign is just the beginning.

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