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Students determined to make vote count

IT was hard during the days of the Celtic Tiger to get students out to protest. There wasn't much to shout about.

Now student grants have been cut, student charges are about to be doubled to €3,000 and colleges are starting to introduce annual €40 parking permits.

All of which means the much-talked-about "student vote" could be a force to be reckoned with on polling day.

There is certainly plenty of interest in the general election among the 8,500 students in NUI Maynooth, where the students' union has been mounting a voter-registration drive.

It got a garda to turn up for two-and-a-half hours (he couldn't be spared for longer due to the shortage of gardai in the North Kildare division) and 500 students signing up to the supplementary electoral register.

Another 400 signed up using forms distributed by the union. Its president, Aengus O'Maolain, said it was a huge statement of intent by students who had been hit in the pocket by government cuts.

"Maynooth has traditionally been seen as a very apolitical campus but we had over 3,000 people -- almost half the student population -- taking part in the student protest in Dublin last year," he said.

The university's academic council has given lecturers the go-ahead to cancel classes for the afternoon of February 25, so that students get as much time as possible to return home to their constituencies to vote.

These students do not frequent the college bar as much as previous generations -- they are drinking at home beforehand to save money.

And buses have replaced taxis for the journey home afterwards from the Mantra nightclub and popular disco bars such as the Roost and Bradys.

Mr O'Maolain said the recession meant the stereotype of students having a carefree time in college was no longer true.

"No one has an easy ride any more. If people are living off their parents, they don't have spare money and people who are working are on the new minimum wage, which is almost nothing," he said.


One Maynooth student is taking a day off lectures so that he can travel to work in his part-time job in an Indian restaurant in Monaghan.

Another had to be given a €400 grant from the student hardship fund -- because the timing belt in his car broke and he couldn't afford to fix it to get to college.

Damian Gorman (20) is determined to get home to Offaly to vote. He said the biggest concern for students now was the lack of jobs.

Mr Gorman had hoped to teach English in Japan when he graduated from his economics and sociology course -- but fears he will miss out due to the huge demand for places.

"I have a part-time job so that'll keep me going and I won't have to apply for social welfare," he said.

In the student centre, Roisin Reynolds, a psychology student, felt the same. "I think it's important that everybody should vote," she said.

Her friend Niall McGrath said he would be voting to get a new government. "It just needs a fresh start," he said.

One of the most popular chants on student marches has been "No Cuts, No Fees, No Fianna Fail TDs."

Even previously local supporters such as Stephen Carragher are deserting them. "I used to be associated with FF but not anymore," he said.

The history masters student is "peeved off" with the party and is now considering voting for Sinn Fein instead.

His friend Miriam Keogh (23), from Skerries in north Co Dublin, was equally disillusioned with the other former government party -- the Greens.

"I would have been a Green and Trevor Sargent would have been my local TD. I really feel betrayed by them and I feel they should have cut their losses sooner," she said.

There isn't even a Green Party society in the university any more.

The only visible societies yesterday were FG and the Socialist Workers Party, both of which had stands in the Arts Block.

SWP member Ian McDonnell (23) said he was hoping for a surge of support for the left in this election.

Irish Independent