We still don’t know if young people will turn out tomorrow the way they did during the marriage equality referendum. Students’ unions, youth groups and anti-establishment parties are certainly hoping that the political engagement seen last May will result in something of a change in how young people engage with politics, but an uninspiring pre-election season has provided us with little reason to believe that this will be the case. For our own sake and for the sake of the issues we care about, however, we must make sure that it will be.
Voting in anything is important. Expressing your democratic right when so many around the world cannot is important. Having a say in how our country is run is important. Proving to the established parties that young people care is important. Unfortunately, these points would, perhaps, be unlikely to convince anyone who isn’t already a regular voter.
Students, however, should see this moment as a crucial one if they want to affect change. This election gives young people the opportunity to see the Ireland we want to see in a much more direct sense than in previous elections. This means that we should make every effort to engage fully.
While the last general election in 2011 concerned itself largely with just one topic – the economic crisis – this year’s election, whether through coincidence or effective lobbying and campaigning, sees some of the most important issues for young people and students at the forefront of debate and of parties’ manifestos.
What party, or parties, win this election will determine the future of abortion rights in Ireland and whether or not we repeal the eighth amendment. Its outcome could mean that we finally start to address the accommodation crisis, rather than continuing to watch it languish. This is the election where parties are, at long last, talking seriously about mental health.
The funding of higher education is finally a topical issue, and this election coincides with what should be considered a crossroads for the biggest student issue in decades. The result of this election will determine whether student loans are introduced and those who attend university have to deal with the burden of debt, or whether we decide that having the second-highest tuition fee in Europe is simply not good enough.
If young people still don’t engage when issues important to us are at the forefront of the national political agenda, we will be ignored and any political weight we have gained evaporated. With these issues at the heart of so many debates, it’s easier than ever to establish parties’ stances and to decide how to cast your vote. Our own coverage of the general election covers these issues, and party leaders, including the Taoiseach, have written for our pages about their stances on higher education.
For young people, there’s a lot resting on this election – more than there usually is. If you care about mental health, if you want your voice heard on the eighth amendment, if you want to see the accommodation crisis addressed and if you believe that student loans should not be introduced, then you must cast your vote tomorrow. Whether you moved your vote to Dublin last year and need to do some research on your new constituency or you need to get the train home to vote, the effort will certainly be worth it.