The Irish Times view on the Trinity College protest: a big win for student activism

Some critics may describe them as an unrepresentative minority, but all available indications are that they have widespread support

In the ebb and flow of political history, protest by students often appears to have had an impact disproportionate to the numbers involved. Some of that may have as much to do with myth as reality, but there is no doubt that student activism moved the dial on issues such as civil rights, the Vietnam war and apartheid. Older generations have a tendency, however, to romanticise their supposedly militant youth and contrast the current generation unfavourably with their own.

At the moment, the English-speaking world is experiencing one of the largest waves of campus demonstrations in decades. Israel’s assault on Gaza, which has left tens of thousands of civilians dead, many of them women and children, has galvanised thousands of students. Protests have been ongoing for months, but escalated in recent weeks with a series of occupations of university buildings and the setting up of encampments at some of the world’s most famous universities.

In the US, matters have been exacerbated by the decision of many college administrators to request intervention by local police forces. As a result, thousands of protesters have been arrested in New York, Los Angeles and other cities across the country.

That experience contrasts with events this week at Trinity College Dublin. Taking a cue from their American peers, students blocked entrances to parts of the city centre campus and set up an encampment on the lawn of Fellows’ Square. Crucially, access was denied to the Book of Kells, one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions and a vital source of revenue for the university.


On Wednesday, Trinity and the protesters announced a comprehensive agreement had been reached. The university undertook to divest from three Israeli companies and to set up a taskforce (including student and staff representatives) to consider further divestment from companies linked to the occupied territories. New academic spaces will be created for students from Gaza.

On the face of it, the activists have achieved their main objectives and secured a remarkable victory. Some critics may describe them as an unrepresentative minority, but all available indications are that they have widespread support among both students and staff.

While there are differing shades of opinion over the conflict in Gaza here, these bear no comparison with the bitter divisions it arouses in the US. This meant that the direction of travel for Trinity always pointed towards a possible resolution. But all sides should be commended for not setting unachievable demands and for moving speedily to reach agreement this week. What remains to be seen is whether the successful outcome will spur further student action on issues such as fees and funding when the new academic year commences in September.