Globally, political parties are more polarised than ever before. While America waits for Biden to take office, we must not forget deep political rivalry also exists in Ireland and within our own campus. We asked a series of questions to each of Trinity’s politically aligned societies in an attempt to lay out who they are, what they do, and what they stand for. Currently, Trinity has nine political societies: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Trinity Young Greens, Labour Youth Trinity, People Before Profit, Sinn Fein, Social Democrats and The Workers Party TCD. They all encompass a wide range of ideologies, from economically centrist and pro-business, to communism, republicanism and ecosocialism.
Fianna Fáil (Wolfe Tone Cumann)
As one of the initial political societies at Trinity, this college branch has a long history. First established in the 1950s, Fianna Fáil, then named Kevin Barry Cumann, was not exclusive to Trinity. The society welcomed students from University College Dublin and the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland. Then, in 1967, Trinity formed its own group called the Erskine Childers Cumann. Finally, the Fianna Fáil Trinity branch changed its name to the Wolfe Tone Cumann (WTC) in 1998, marking the bicentenary of the 1798 rebellion.
Ideologically, the society describes themselves as a “broad church” of views and opinions. They regard themselves as economically centrist and support a pro-business stance. The society states that they are in favour of investments into good public services. Furthermore, Crowley highlights that “our Republicanism is also at the forefront of our vision”, meaning that they aim to achieve Irish unity “by following the philosophy of our cumann’s namesake, Wolfe Tone. This is a conciliatory and united approach”. Crowley refers to the 16th century Irish revolutionary figure Theobald Wolfe Tone, a key leader against British rule in Ireland.
The WTC organises a range of events for their members. Crowley cites interviews with notable public figures, quizzes, panel discussions, and their annual trip to the Dáil which they attend with Fianna Fáil societies from other Dublin colleges. During elections, many of their members help out with canvassing. Moreover, the WTC is a branch of Fianna Fáil’s youth wing – Ógra Fianna Fáil. Due to this affiliation, the society is able to engage with the development of policy and submit their suggestions to the senior party, which has potential to influence the direction of a government bill.
Trinity Young Fine Gael
Young Fine Gael is the politically autonomous youth wing of the Fine Gael party. They have been fairly active this year, holding regular quizzes and events such as ‘political speed-dating’. Trinity Young Fine Gael did not respond to communication from Trinity News.
Trinity Young Greens
As a result of petitioning by a group of activists, Trinity Young Greens were re-established in 2019. Despite being one of the most recently established political societies in Trinity, the Young Greens have a large membership of 70 students.
Tate Donnelly, the society’s current public relations officer and former committee chair, summarizes the Young Green’s ideology: “We stand for a more equal and more sustainable Ireland, and campaign on issues such as housing, direct provision, transport, and of course mental health.” Though they are a part of the Young Greens, Donnelly states the society does find itself taking separate policy positions on given issues. Nevertheless, the society is united in their pursuit of climate justice.
Unfortunately, the society has recently decided to take a short break due to “the long and difficult year the Young Greens had”. Donnelly mentioned that testing events such as the General Election, leadership election and the vote on the Programme for Government has left many members unhappy with the results. Therefore, “the committee of the Young Greens felt a short break would allow everyone to reflect and decide what the best course of action is when we return”.
Labour Youth Trinity
This branch was established in 1969 by anti-war activist Roger Cole, making this committee also one of the longest standing political groups in Trinity.
Despite its longevity, this society has a comparably smaller membership. With just over 30 members this year, current membership is down by over half from last year. Nonetheless, Trinity Labour group has approximately 17 extremely active members that regularly attend meetings and social events.
Cian Kelly Lyth, former committee member, summarises the society’s overarching philosophies: “We’re democratic socialists, and advocate for feminism, ecosocialism and antiracism.” Membership ideology ranges from centre-left to far-left with the majority identifying as socialist. They are the youth wing of the Irish Labour Party, and, therefore, they align with many of the ideologies of the governmental party. However, the Trinity society maintains that they are a semi-autonomous organisation. They have been noted to take a stand against the government party and call out members of the Irish Party when they are believed to have made a mistake. Lyth cites an example where, two years ago, former committee member Chloe Manahan wrote a piece for Trinity News against the Labour Party leadership in Take Back the City.
As a smaller society, the Trinity Labour Youth is more active than most. They have weekly branch meetings for all members and frequently host guest speakers, panel discussions, film screenings, and debates. Lyth points out that the society has “also been focusing a lot in the past couple of years on progressive drug policy, and [they] had a panel discussion on Supervised Injection Facilities last year which filled out the Swift lecture hall.” Currently, the society is undertaking various grassroots activities such as collaborating with the national Labour Youth campaign, Born Here Belong Here, that launched only last week.
People Before Profit
Trinity’s People Before Profit society (PBP) was officially established in 1991 under the name Socialist Workers’ Student Society (SWSS). In 2016, the group changed to its current title to reflect its association with the Socialist Workers’ Network which previously underwent a series of name changes.
Each year the society has approximately 150 to 200 students join the group, which is one of the largest sign-up rates across the board. Clara McCormack, the auditor of the society, describes their demographics as “[having] an even gender balance, and good representation across the faculty of arts, humanities and social sciences, the faculty of engineering, mathematics and sciences and the faculty of health sciences. Also, we always have a number of Erasmus students and LGBTQ+ students join”.
When asked to describe their ideologies, McCormack explains: “we’re a socialist party, so we stand for the rights of workers and those disenfranchised in society by their class, social background, or economic background. We’re ecosocialist, anti-imperialist, feminist, anti-racist, and believe in solidarity across borders.” Indeed, the majority of people within this society are strongly left-wing. However, McCormack explains how there can be degrees of variation in what people think of certain social and economic issues. She notes: “one of the aims…is to develop our understanding of socialism and what it looks like in practice” — a natural point of healthy debate for the society.
PBP organise weekly events that range from casual discussions between members to more formal talks with guest speakers, as well as reading groups and film nights. Prior to the pandemic, PBP would frequently engage in many forms of grassroots activism, such as protests and organising meetings. Their activities mainly focus on “issues such as housing, climate, student welfare, workers’ rights, but this activity has been quite limited recently with the Covid-19 restrictions”.
Ógra Shinn Féin TCD was founded in 1999 as a branch of the official government Sinn Féin party. Mirroring the growing support for the party nationally, the group received its largest membership ever this year.
Liam Kiernan, Sinn Féin’s Cathaoirleach, states that the society’s activism is based around five ideals: “Republicanism, socialism, feminism, internationalism, and environmentalism. Our goal is the establishment of a 32 county socialist republic, as outlined by the 1916 Proclamation.” Kiernan says that the society encompasses a wide collection of views, with their members coming from all parts of the political left. He assures that the society remains “united in [their] commitment to furthering progressive change in Ireland.”
Although the group is firmly associated with the government group of the same name, Kiernan states that they have good relations with other left-leaning political societies on campus. Often forming alliances with Labour and the Young Greens, as seen in a recent open letter they wrote against the TCD LawSoc’s decision to grant Simon Harris TD with the Trinity Praeses Elit award.
The Social Democrats was established in October 2015 by a handful of members. In the five years since it was founded, the society has significantly expanded their presence across Trinity and it is a significant contributor to the political sphere on campus.
Anthony Keane, the secretary of the branch, states that their “membership is relatively small compared to some of the larger societies”, and they have “about a 3:2 ratio of women to men in the branch”. As stated within their name, the Social Democrats society strives to popularise a Nordic model of social democracy in Ireland. Keane outlines their core values to be “integrity, transparency, and basing our policies in evidence”, and they aim towards achieving “good standard public services in return for taxes, rather than paying some of the highest taxes in Europe and not getting a decent return on investment as we do now”. The Social Democrats would be classified as a party on the centre left. Keane states that their society has close ties to similar groups such as Sinn Féin, the Greens, and Labour. “However, what we feel differentiates us from the latter two is our integrity and our belief in our policies and ideals”.
On a daily basis, the Trinity branch interacts with their parent government party, and supports them in their business. Keane also mentions the society involves themselves in campaigns around housing, direct provision, and climate change.
Workers Party TCD
The Trinity branch of the Workers’ Party was re-established in 2018 after a dozen students joined the government parent party in 2016. The society proceeds from the Republican Club which was formed in 1996. However, after the decline in popularity of socialism in the 90s, the Republican club went into decline.
The society attracts around 75 members a year. Fiachra McCann, the society’s auditor, has observed that their members tend to be “young people and students [who] have been badly affected by austerity and neoliberalism”, and have consequently picked up an interest in communism or working class organisations.
When asked what their society stands for, McCann affirms “we stand for socialism and for the working class.” They firmly oppose the policies laid out by the current parties in power – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens. Therefore, the Workers’ Party TCD tends not to collaborate with the associated societies on many of their events or activities. Moreover, the society describes themselves as a secular republican organisation. They adhere to the Wolfe Tone tradition and, without placing emphasis on religion or nationality, they advocate for a united Ireland; a 32 county socialist republic. “To paraphrase Tone – we wish to unite the people of Ireland be they Protestant, Catholic, or Atheist.”
“Our message is simple: communism works. It has worked for hundreds of millions of people and has turned desperately poor societies into places where everyone had decent food, medical care and education.” In terms of grassroots activities, the society is currently running a “Cut the Fees for Covid-19” campaign. This involved petitioning members of the Irish government to confirm that students are not overcharged for services and facilities that they are not receiving. McCann stresses that “you don’t have to be a diehard communist to join the society. You just have to care about people who work for a living.” There is a spot welcome for everyone to join their group.
It is easy to feel disorientated within the realm of politics when core party values are lost amongst the hostile rhetoric of its leaders. With so many political parties to choose from, all of which aim to appeal to mass voter bases, it is more difficult than ever to filter through populism and find a party that truly speaks to your personal beliefs and values.