The start of the college term for students across Ireland coincides with what for many of Ireland’s politicians is the beginning of election season. While politicians are gearing up for campaigns and debates, students are struggling to find affordable accommodation and dealing with the fallout of an inefficient grant system and costly registration fees. Will the similar start time of both the academic and political year be the only thing that the students and politicians have in common, or will the students actually have a part to play in this election?
Looking back at the 2011 election manifestos, and the promises of Fine Gael and Labour, you can’t help but be disillusioned with the political process. We all remember the infamous ‘‘every little hurts’’ campaign by Labour, warning of planned Fine Gael cuts and charges, which, embarrassingly for the junior coalition party, all still came into effect. After further divulges into the previous election manifestos, and those of the now opposition parties, we see a similar pattern. Students aren’t the priority, and they’re probably not even in the top 5 issues. This lack of interest towards young people wasn’t just a Labour or Fine Gael phenomenon, Fianna Fail were also guilty. There is a very logical reason for this; younger people are less likely to vote, and in many circumstances they are not even registered.
Looking ahead to the upcoming General Election, the question is whether politicians will take the student demographic seriously? In the run up to the Marriage Referendum 20,000 students registered to vote at voter drives on campuses all around the country. Strong youth votes were reported at polling stations in all constituencies, and students were seen as having a key role in the massive success of the Yes Campaign. Now that students know they can use their voice to bring about change will they demand to be heard in the run up to the next election? The next few months will be key in determining this. Students were both inspiring and inspired during the Marriage Referendum. They brushed off stereotypes that branded them as lazy and uninterested and got involved in bringing about real change that they believed in. They also saw that using their voices and more importantly their votes does actually have an impact. More student voter registration drives, as seen prior to the referendum, will be important in making sure politicians take note of their younger citizens. Student Unions must use their position and reach out to keep students interested and engaged in the political system during this time.
In all previous general elections, low turnout is higher among the demographic of younger votes; this hopefully will not be the case for the General Election in early 2016. The question is, will politicians, the government and opposition alike, use this newly inspired demographic to their advantage, and direct policy and investment towards students in return for their number one on the day. Students want to be heard, will the political establishment listen?