Students take over city centre

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Almost 600 Derry school students staged a dramatic walkout from their classrooms on Friday over proposed cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and an increase in university fees.

After marching through the city centre, students then forced their way into council chambers in the Guildhall where they remained for 20 minutes and shouted in protest at the controversial reforms to higher education.

It's believed the march had been organised locally via social networking sites and was attended by pupils from most of the secondary and grammar schools in the city. However in a letter to local press angry Thornhill sixth form students have claimed that teaching staff at the school made it "virtually impossible to attend the rally."

The students, who wish to remain anonymous, said: "When senior students went to leave, they were prevented from doing so by senior teachers, despite the fact that the majority of them had parental permission to participate in the march. Despite this, teachers insisted that students be collected by their parents and taken to the march, further wasting time. Many were unable to do so and had to abandon participating in the rally.

"The usual protocol in Thornhill is that students may leave if they have a note written by their parents and signed by the year head. However, it was decided on Friday that extra criteria would be added. We feel staff could have been more accomodating instead of putting obstables in our way."

Speaking at Friday's rally, veteran socialist campaigner Eamon McCann told the crowd that young people were showing communities and trade unions what to do.

He said: "People have said young people are timid and docile, well the last few days have given lie to that. Young people are giving a lead to their elders," he said.

Kevin Henry from the Socialist Youth movement who organised the Belfast protests on Thursday made the journey to Derry to support the demonstration. He said further demonstrations would take place in the coming weeks. "We believe that local politicians will vote in favour of a rise in fees. The Northern Ireland MPs voted against the increase in Parliament yesterday because 9000 is too high, not because they oppose an increase. We will organise more walkouts for students, the fight is not over. We are in full support of students walking out of classrooms and we have to prepare students for this over the coming weeks."

Derry's Mayor, Councillor Colum Eastwood also attended the protest and said he understood the concerns of the local students.

He added: "I totally agree that concerns need to be raised over the proposals and something needs to be done to stop them going forward. I do believe that there were a few here today intent on causing trouble and I do not think they were here for a love of the students. The coalition government has put an attack on the poorest in society and I hope the Northern Ireland Assembly take heed and don't implement the cuts."