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The beginning of the decade brought USI a small, but significant, sign of acceptance from the government. Following a dispute between the union and another organisation which sought to undermine it, the government began to realise the importance of the work that the union was doing. In this light it gave a grant of £5,000 “to finance the administration of the union… to provide stability to enable it to continue its activities”, as described in the February 23rd 1979 edition of the Irish Times.

In the spirit of the reinvigorated campaign on this issue of civil rights, the union’s president, Richard O’Toole, called for support of issues effecting the West, stat- ing: “USI recognises the absence of real opportunity for the young people of Connacht as stemming from the failure to initiate radical social and economic programmes with a view to solving the present unsatisfactory trends in immigration and depopulation.” This com- passion with these issues affecting those students based in the West would become an enduring and re- occurring theme for USI over the years.

On a more national issue, a new proposal for a rise in fees by 25% would see the union undertake an innovative form of protest to en- liven its tactics in fighting its ongoing battle. A telephone campaign was organised as a day of action against the Department of Education, avoiding strife with the Gardaí and proving the union’s ability to deal a serious obstruction to those who would impose further hard- ship on its members.

Following on the theme of finding new ways to have its voice heard, in November 1970, USI was to call for the amendment of the Higher Education Authority Bill, to allow for the presence of a student representative on the authority. In a press statement, Richard O’Toole pointed out that “USI believes that the functions of the HEA cannot be fully realised if it merely duplicates the existing authoritarian structures of many of our institutions of higher education” and that, in order for the new authority to be effective, it would have to promote true democracy in terms of representation. Though it would be many years before the proposed seat was won, the fight was maintained for students to have their say on an equal level.

A special conference held in February of 1972 sought to pay special attention to the North. Formulated in such a way that no formal motions would be created or voted on, the conference wished to explore the feelings of students throughout the country and to agree on practical policies. Through discussion with the National Union of Students in Britain, a bilateral arrangement would be agreed in 1974 to allow Northern affiliate colleges to have status on both NUS and USI.

This year also saw the beginning of a new campaign by USI for the approval of a referendum to allow for voting at age 18. The approval of this referendum would strengthen USI’s position, as more of its members would be allowed to actively engage in the democratic process, and therefore, the voice of students would be ever louder in the government’s ear. Boosted by its victory in this matter, the union strengthened its efforts to involve more students in the movement, creating new administrative posts and committees within the USI, an effort which then president Pat Rabbitte described as allowing for the improvement of communication between USI’s leadership and the student body at large.

Further accusations would be levelled against Minister for Education Padraig Faulkner in his failings to tackle the division between how students in universities and technical colleges were treated. This resulted in the eventual occupation of facilities at Bolton Street College of Technology due to the Minister’s failure to release a paper describing how deteriorating conditions in technical colleges would be dealt with.

The mid 70s saw USI tackling some of the major taboo issues in Irish society, which were affecting students and society at large. A student conference in 1973 resulted in the union siding with those who wished to put pressure on governments in the North and South to change the law regarding homo- sexuality. This would afford greater protection to many of those in Ire- land who were emigrating to avoid persecution. Further controversial debate would take place two years later during the union’s annual congress where it was agreed that the issue of the legalisation of abortion was to be made a discus- sion point at an upcoming conference on the status of women.

As the decade drew to a close, the union would tackle its detractors and those that alleged communist activity by passing motions condemning human rights abuses in the Soviet Union. Further motions were also passed to condemn fascist movements and organisations in order to fight against any at- tempts that they might make to affect students.

These years would also see USI reinvigorating its campaign to make college education available for all and not just the privileged few. As the Department of Education announced plans to restrict postgraduate grants to those who achieved a first class honours degree, the union spoke out against the injustice of an arbitrary difference that could be caused by a single percentage point. The maintenance of an acceptable

standard of living for students was, as always, a top priority, and 1978 brought new calls for rental rates for student accommodation to be lowered and brought in line with national standards. A protest to exemplify their point was held in November of ‘79 when students took up residence in tents on O’Connell Street, highlighting the threat of near homelessness that they faced if rents did not become manage- able.

A turbulent decade on both the national and international scenes saw USI diversify both the nature and means of its campaigns. Innovative thought, greater communication and a plan for the future would characterise the organisation as it looked towards the 1980s.