Students and Irish Politics

In a recent survey conducted by the staff of The University Observer, an astonishing 88 per cent of those surveyed said they did not trust the judgement of politicians. On the other hand however, only 12 per cent regarded themselves as being fully politically engaged. This disparity in our survey results is symptomatic of the seeming malaise among younger voters and arguably, the Irish nation writ large.

These days, whenever students are asked what party they support or whom they are considering voting for in the upcoming general election, the most common response is a shrug of the shoulders, swiftly followed by a glib, sarcastic remark. This response is indicative of the generational apathy inflicting our nation – an apathy that emanates from a pervasive confusion and a lack of a strong political role model or voice with whom young people can readily identify. Again, 85 per cent of the students surveyed stated a preference for the emergence of a new and younger breed of politician. Yet what is the likelihood of a greater representation of young people in parliament when only 12 per cent of the target group describe themselves as fully politically engaged? You simply cannot have it both ways.

USI have taken an important step in organising bus routes to provincial locations to facilitate students who would be otherwise unable to vote, but this is only a minor step in eradicating this disconcerting problem. While it would be far from surprising to discover that politicians purposefully intend to schedule the general election date at an inappropriate time for students, given their tendency to exercise erratic and unpredictable voting patterns, this anomaly hardly impinges radically on the outcome of the election, owing to young people’s persistent detachment and indifference towards the most important issue of all – the running of our country in a fair, intelligent and dignified manner. Essentially, the opposite of what has transpired in recent months.

In the last general election in 2007, the voter turnout amongst young people was unnaturally low in contrast with each of the other respective demographics. Back then, a similar style of survey in The University Observer found even more discouraging results from a student perspective, with only 82 per cent of students saying they intended to vote and 72 per cent claiming they were registered to vote. On this occasion, a characteristic shrug of the shoulder was again exhibited and droves of student voters were conspicuous by their absence come voting day. Politics was an old person’s game, irrelevant to the cream of the Celtic Tiger crop, or so they thought anyway.

Yet recent history has amply demonstrated how students’ naive attitude to voting contributes in its own way to facilitate the downfall of this country’s thriving economy, thereby indirectly aiding the mass exodus of our citizens, the embarrassing spectacle of our grovelling politicians and all the humiliating turmoil which followed on from that fateful day on May 24th 2007 when Fianna Fáil were re-elected into government.

Approaching the issue of voting in such a casual manner was an undoubted error on all of our parts, and we have reaped the consequences. Therefore, the blame for the country’s perils should not be solely attributed to our bankers, politicians and property developers. The blame, in some ways, rests on all our own shoulders.

The implications for this general election may very well be as serious as they were for the previous one. With this in mind, The University Observer urges all of its readers to ensure you are signed up to vote, to do all you can to get access to your local polling booth, and to think very carefully before casting your vote on the day in question, whenever that may be. If 85 per cent of students want to see more young politicians, then the appetite for significant political change clearly exists. Whether this desire is fulfilled and whether their passion is truly genuine remains unclear for now. But if the USI-orchestrated anti-fees march last October is anything to go by, then students will surely once again prove themselves more than capable of adopting a concerted, well-organised grassroots campaign in which apathy is extinguished amidst a blaze of long withheld fire emerging from students’ swift reawakening of their long dormant optimism and their seemingly recovered idealism.

Editorial Independence

From the outset, I would like to introduce myself as the new Acting Editor of The University Observer having up to this point, been privileged to perform the Deputy Editor role. As Acting Editor, it remains as one of my key roles to cherish and protect the hard fought tradition of our independence effectively guarded by a succession of astute editorial teams of the years of what has been consistently acknowledged as the premier quality student newspaper in UCD. This accolade has been achieved due to the professionalism of the dedicated student contributors with the guidance of the editorial team, not to mention the support of the campus population.

As part of this newspaper’s success, we are bound to have our detractors, some of whom may be somewhat jealous of our achievements. While this publication always welcomes informed criticism aimed at broadening democratic debate and constructive change, we do have to respond where attempts are made to endeavour in impugn the Observer’s core beliefs.  Last week an article published in a purported rival publication (The College Tribune) attempted to question the paper’s independence as follows: “The newspaper, based in the corridors of the Students’ Union in the student centre [sic], is “editorially independent” from UCDSU.” The inverted commas around the words editorially independent suggests a measure of scepticism with regard to the extent of the freedom which both our writers and the editorial team justly enjoy in terms of the paper’s capacity to impartially comment/inform on the broad range of all aspects of UCD life, independent from the UCD Students’ Union.

Let’s put the matter of The University Observer’s impartiality in a transparent perspective. It is a matter of public record that the paper is allocated a budget of €50,000 from the UCDSU at the start of each year, of which a significant portion is subsequently recovered through advertising income. However, this funding in no way influences our editorial policy. Nor does it put us in a unique position in comparison to other newspapers, almost all of whom would be unable to survive or function to an acceptable standard without the financial backing of a third party. Anyone who claims that our articles are in any way reluctant to engage in balanced criticism of UCD’s elected student representatives need only bother making use of the paper’s extensive archives in which a number of robust SU-based articles have often appeared.

Although a significant amount of our news coverage is dedicated to events relating to the UCDSU i.e. the body charged with responsibility for representing the student population, it would be a gross disservice to our loyal readers to censor the views of the Students’ Union on relevant issues. Whereas academic authorities often prove evasive, the Students’ Union officers are oftentimes more open, willing and able to discuss student issues, in contrast with their elder counterparts.

Functioning as a largely volunteer-based student newspaper with a limited amount of events to cover and a paucity of resources, The University Observer endeavours to serve as a mediator between the Sabbatical officers and the students they represent. The allegations that they are given a disproportionate amount of coverage on these pages are both unfair and untrue.  The suggestion that the proximity of the Students’ Union and The University Observer accommodation somehow undermines impartiality is facile and does not dignify a response.

In conclusion, let me assure our loyal readership that as Acting Editor, I am proud to lead an exceptional team of student contributors, focusing on meeting the information needs of the readership and will not be swayed from pursuing our core aims of impartially reporting on meaningful news items. God knows there are so many worthy topics that need to be reported on given the current state of our bankrupt economy and the draconian implications for students and college alike. Let’s press on and meet the challenges together!

Thank you, Bridget

This issue marks the first without my colleague Bridget Fitzsimons. Bridget edited the paper for the first seven issues of the current volume and the paper wishes her all the best as she elects to seek pastures new. Though the timing of her departure was unfortunate, it should not detract from the stellar job Bridget performed whilst editing the previous seven editions of this newspaper.

Moreover, her contribution over the years has been impressive to say the least, whether as News Editor, Chief Features Writer, or contributor, Bridget has always shown a capacity to excel in every single facet of journalism that she endeavoured to confront. The University Observer wishes to extend a hearty thanks to Bridget for all her years of distinguished service with the paper. We’ll miss you babes.