SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 02, 2024

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Trinity College Dublin

Region & Country:Europe | Ireland

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 2, 2024, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) fined the Trinity College Dublin Student Union (TCDSU) €214,285 ($230,596) for financial losses due to peaceful student protests. The fine was later dropped.

In issuing the fine, TCD cited student protests organized by TCDSU and Trinity Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (TCD BDS), a pro-Palestinian student organization, and held between September 2023 and April 2024. The protests criticized proposed fee increases and TCD’s response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza following Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on October 7, 2024. TCD claimed that the protests caused a loss of income at the Book of Kells, a 1,200 year-old Celtic artifact located on campus, which draws over 500,000 tourists a year. TCDSU was instructed to pay the fine before May 30, 2024, and informed that it must be paid in order for its members to graduate.

Also on May 2, UCD’s office of the Junior Dean, which oversees student disciplinary actions, summoned three students for disciplinary hearings: TCDSU president László Molnárfi, communications officer Aiesha Wong, incoming president-elect Jenny Maguire and head of the Post Graduate Workers Organisation (PWO TCD) Jeffrey Sardina for their participation in an April 29 protest held outside of the Book of Kells pavilion.

On May 13, TCDSU sent a letter to TCD’s Financial Services division stating the union’s refusal to pay the fine. As reported by RTE, TCDSU stated that the students had exercised their right to protest and that “if a loss of revenue coincided with such peaceful protests, none of which resulted in any arrests… then such is a cost to the university of operating in a liberal democracy.”

On May 20, TCD withdrew the fine and dropped the disciplinary proceedings against the TCDSU and PWO TCD student leaders. In a comment to BBC News, a TCD spokesperson stated that “a joint renewed commitment was made to student partnership” during a meeting between university administrators and student representatives.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a higher education institution issuing monetary and disciplinary penalties against student organizations in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and assembly – conduct which is protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ireland is a party. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against expressive activities and assemblies so long as they are peaceful and responsible. Even when ultimately reversed, penalties intended to restrict student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.