News Analysis: Decision time

The upcoming general election will be crucial in deciding our future, so it is imperative that students make their voices heard, writes Katie HughesThe role that the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) decides to play in the upcoming elections is of utmost importance to the future of students, as well as the rest of the population. One would hope that USI help ensure that students vote for a new political future for our country, as well as for each of us as individuals.

USI Deputy President Cónán Ó Broin insists that they will be “urging students out on election day” to send a message to politicians that they are dissatisfied with the current situation, that they’re not happy with their future being mortgaged as a result of “the mistakes of the older generation” and to ultimately let the people in power know that they are the group who will have to suffer the consequences for the government’s mistakes.

A huge campaign is set to be launched in the lead up to the elections in which USI will examine the policies of all contending parties and make known to students their respective stands on education, hopefully getting a commitment from the politicians for their future actions in relation to third-level education.

USI will not be asking students to vote for any particular party, instead giving them the right to make an informed decision, though “we’ll be very clear which parties are supportive of education and which are not,” insists Ó Broin.

November 24th saw thousands of British students protesting the increase in tuition fees in a manner similar to the November 3rd march organised by USI. This can be seen as one of USI’s greatest achievements, given that the union points to this march as the reason for the government’s decision to increase the registration fee, now known as the student contribution fee, to €2,000 and not €3,000 as previously anticipated.

However, the mere fact that an increase was incurred caused disgust in the USI camp, according to Ó Broin: “This is just another nail in the Irish economy. All the 33 per cent increase will do is simply drive more students out of education into unemployment.

“With 14 per cent unemployment, we need to be taking down the barrier to education so people may have a chance of landing a job in this country and being able to hold down a meaningful career; the government and state need to protect and support as many young people as possible [and] give them a fighting chance of a life in Ireland,” says Ó Broin. This statement from the USI indicates that they know what the main issues facing students are and are aware of the measures that must be taken to improve our situation.

USI will undoubtedly follow through on their plans to make the student vote heard in the elections; however, if they only play a mediocre role in doing so, we must question the purpose of USI as an organisation and consider whether the €108,000 affiliation fee is worth paying or whether there is a better purpose for it closer to home.

What we don’t want USI to become is a platform for new politicians, a stepping stone to the next county council elections. What we need is a strong body that is ready to be the voice of students and who will stand up for our rights, without being hindered by the thought of potentially damaging their future political aspirations.

In a recent referendum, DCU’s Students’ Union decided not to re-affiliate with USI. DCUSU President Megan O’Riordán put this down to DCU being “strong enough to excel alone”. With UCD being one of the biggest and most prominent universities in the country, is it not ready to excel alone now too? Does this unifying force do enough to bring us together and provide a clear voice, especially given that DCU are not a part of it? Can USI do their job properly without the input of a major third-level institution such as DCU?

With the huge turnout for its November march, USI seems to have gathered ample support among Ireland’s students. Their relative popularity suggests that with a tactically-run voting campaign in the lead up to the elections, this student voice may indeed be heard loud and clear this time around – though how powerful that voice really is remains to be seen.