“It’s clear that there will be no significant progress until the day comes when new ideas, not just new suits, are voted in.”
Maybe it was fate that on Monday of Freshers’ Week, when I was at my most wide-eyed and fresh-faced, I met someone who would bring me crashing back down to reality.
I had somehow managed to empty my unsuspecting wallet after just ten minutes and five societies so I wandered over to the ATM nestled in beside the Buttery. The queue was incredibly long but I wasn’t worried. I, in all my naivety, saw it as a chance to get to know new people. And so, with that in mind, I struck up a conversation with the girl in front of me.
We chatted for a minute or two about the pros and cons of queues, how we felt about cobblestones, and whether or not €6 was too steep a fee for the Phil. Then, I noticed that she was wearing a society t-shirt, but because of the way she was standing I couldn’t make out the name emblazoned across it. With my mind already racing with the thoughts of all the free stuff she’d have access to, I politely asked my new friend which society she was from.
I can’t be sure if it was before or after she replied but suddenly, the September sun clouded over and I felt a chill pass through my body, maybe even through the whole campus. I never actually investigated it but I am 48% sure I faintly heard someone scream at the exact moment after I asked but before I heard the answer.
“Fianna Fáil”, she said, her voice already braced for the reaction to come.
“Oh”, I replied. It was the best I could do. The conversation collapsed. I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times but I couldn’t think of anything to say. After about a minute (or twenty) of silence, I turned away to pretend to urgently text someone. “Yeah”, the Fianna Fáiler said, more to herself than me. “We get a lot of that around here.”
Looking back on the experience, I feel bad for the girl, stuck between a conversational rock and a political hard place. I’m sure she got a few sign-ups over the week but I can’t be completely certain. I only know a handful of people who joined political parties during Freshers’ Week and most of them seem to have joined on the same impulse that drove people to Korean Soc and the American Football Club.
Strange young politics
“Why is it that we will march in our thousands for repealing the Eighth Amendment but we are reluctant to accept mainstream political systems and join parties?”
Young people and politics have a strange relationship. On one hand, hundreds of thousands of us come out to campaign on major social issues we see as affecting either us or groups with whom we sympathise — abortion and same-sex marriage being prime examples. As a demographic, we seem to have a much greater interest in social issues than other, older groups who would align to political parties more closely than we do.
Why is it that we will march in our thousands for repealing the Eighth Amendment but we are reluctant to accept mainstream political systems and join parties? Some groups like Young Fine Gael don’t seem to do too badly on campus at the moment, but even their members don’t go through the party to campaign anymore. Instead, they turn to the Students’ Union.
Most, if not all, student political action now comes from our Students’ Union, as evidenced in the Rally for Education being facilitated by TCDSU next week in conjunction with the national campaign. There is no hint of party politics in this campaign, or in any other similar campaigns run by the SU. The dialogue on campus, rather than being centred around which party you align yourself to, is centred around which side of each debate you align yourself to.
In my own circle of friends, for example, no one talks about political parties, but everyone talks about social issues. Does this mean that party politics is dying? Is it becoming less apparent which party is which, and which, if any, of the party options is doing a good job? And, most importantly, does any of this matter to students anymore?
There are a couple of theories floating around about what has pushed party politics to death’s door. The first that comes to mind is that seemingly ancient stereotype of the far left student that worships Marx and denounces “the establishment” for whatever reason seems most appropriate at that time.
I’ve only been in college a wet week but I have already found myself discussing socialist theories, and I have a list of communist literature that I “have to” read. But the only socialist party on campus is the Socialist Workers Student Society, which is quite small. Could young people be too individualistic to rigidly adhere to a set of policies put forward by a political party?
Similarities with religion
“The political system in Ireland has developed into a kind of one-sided war, Fianna Fáil on one side and Fine Gael on the same side, for when we get sick of Fianna Fáil.”
Our relationship with politics is similar to our relationship with religion in this way. While a lot of young people may have their own set of beliefs, they may not align themselves with one particular church in the way that older generations do. But then, a lot of people in Ireland, including young people, have become disillusioned with the Catholic church in recent years after decades of scandals and stories of sexual abuse.
Although the scandals may not be quite so common or quite so repugnant in the world of politics, disillusionment still abounds. The political system in Ireland has developed into a kind of one-sided war, with Fianna Fáil on one side and Fine Gael on the same side, for when we get sick of Fianna Fáil.
No matter which side of the coin the electorate votes for, the government is made up of conservative, centre-right politicians whose methods have been tried and tested in hundreds of other governments, thousands of times over. It’s clear that there will be no significant progress until the day comes when new ideas, not just new suits, are voted in.
Maybe that is where our problem as young people lies: we campaign for change as loudly and as often as possible, and we have and discuss our own political beliefs, but we don’t venture into the dark wood that is party politics. To us, party politics means trying to elicit change within a world that has defied structural change virtually since its inception.
We take political discourse in our stride but political parties elude us. When we gain more life experience we might trade in our exuberant idealism for resigned cynicism and join a party. That is, however, if we can ever find a party that suits our particular set of views. But until then, we’ll keep marching for choice, we’ll keep extolling Marx, and we’ll keep our heads down when someone by the ATM asks if we’d like to join Micheál Martin’s Soldiers of Destiny.