Northern Ireland students stage City Hall protest
Published 09/12/2010 | 16:00
Police have removed students who had been blocking a road in Belfast city centre during a protest against Government plans to increase tuition fees.
Around 30 students from the 150-strong crowd were blocking Donegal Square North with traffic being diverted away from the area.
Police said four arrests were made in connection with disorderly behavior.
The protest took place just hours before MPs in London voted to raise the cap on university tuition fees in England to £9,000. In Northern Ireland, universities currently charge up to a maximum of £3,290.
Secondary school pupils and university students gathered outside Belfast City Hall at 1pm in a bid to remind Northern Ireland’s politicians to honour their commitment to ensure that higher education is accessible for all.
As thousands of students mounted protests across the UK, Labour leader Ed Miliband warned Lib Dems they faced a “day of judgment”, calling on them to stick by their pre-election pledge and vote against the increases.
“Before the election, they promised families and young people that they would oppose any increase in tuition fees,” he said.
“Today it looks like many Lib Dems will break that promise. To abstain in this vote will simply allow the Government to increase tuition fees.
“I am calling on all MPs — including Lib Dems — to vote against this increase.”
A series of last-minute concessions and rumoured offers of Government jobs appear to have failed to head off a significant revolt among the Lib Dem rank-and-file, with signs that up to half of the party's 57 MPs could vote against.
They include Lib Dem president Tim Farron, while deputy leader Simon Hughes has |indicated he will at least take advantage of terms in the coalition agreement allowing abstention.
A handful of Tories are also expected to enter the ‘no' lobby or abstain — although the Government's comfortable majority should ensure the proposals are safely passed. Speaking to reporters outside his home this morning, Mr Clegg denied he should feel ashamed for voting in favour of the policy.
“I would feel ashamed if I didn't deal with the way that the world is, not simply dream of the way the world I would like it to be,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.
“In the circumstances in which we face, where there isn't very much money around, where many millions of other people are being asked to make sacrifices, where many young people in the future want to go to university — we have to find the solution for all of that.”
But leading Lib Dem rebel Greg Mulholland criticised Mr Clegg for failing to listen on the issue. “Let's not kid ourselves, this issue, this policy, has done a huge amount of damage to the Lib Dems already.
“My view is that we should never have been put into this situation.
“Being asked to support a policy of trebling tuition fees from the position that we used to have is something that we should never have been asked to do.”