Choices for 2015 and Beyond

By Joe Dwyer

Originally appeared on Student Broad Left, Wednesday 04 February 2015
Also appeared on An Phoblacht, Thursday 05 February 2015

How Sinn Fein delivers for Students and Young people north and south & details for Sinn Fein’s upcoming London Public Briefing on the 11th February.

SFRYNCLAST Sunday I attended the Sinn Fein Republican Youth National Congress in Dundalk, County Louth. The day reaffirmed (if it ever needed to be) that radical left Youth and Student Politics is alive and well in Ireland.

Buoyed by Syriza’s ascension to power in Greece and Sinn Fein’s own steady rise in opinion polls, the day saw a wide range of debate and discussion on what a Sinn Fein Government would mean for the 26 Counties and how the party has delivered in the 6 Counties. The day paid particular attention to how Sinn Fein can best defend and appeal to the youth of Ireland.

Under the Troika’s austerity programme more than 300,000 people have left southern Ireland in pursuit of work or better life prospects. Roughly 41% of these people are aged between 15 and 24. This has been dubbed Ireland’s ‘Youth Exodus’. It is therefore little surprise that over a quarter of the population has been directly affected by the emigration of a close family member.

As evident across Europe austerity has hit young people hard. The Irish Third Level “Student Contribution” fee is set to rise from €2,750 to €3,000 for the 2015/2016 academic year. Youth unemployment currently stands at 21.60%. Motions passed at the Sinn Fein Youth Congress reflected how young people are struggling economically. These included: opposition to any raise in tuitions fees north or south; a call for the introduction of enhanced student schemes to reduce transport costs; support for the implementation of monthly student support payments; and a call upon insurance companies to cease the exploitation of young people with extortionate car insurance policies. The Congress also expressed solidarity with the NUI Galway lecturer Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington and her pursuit of gender equality within the University; and called for the extension of voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds.

In the north where Sinn Fein is in power, albeit within a power-sharing executive, the party has worked to protect the interests of young people. In the recently passed budget the Department of Education received an extra £500m in funding for the development of shared and integrated education projects for the next 10 years. The Department of Employment & Learning received £33.2m in additional funding; £20m of this is targeted towards the north’s universities and colleges and the remaining £13.2m tasked to develop a United Youth programme pilot and apprenticeship training schemes. Sinn Fein has also rallied, alongside the Irish National Teachers Organisation, to oppose any cut to the subsidiary received by St Mary’s and Stranmillis teacher training colleges in Belfast. A cut widely considered to be politically motivated and posing a threat to the very continuation of both valued institutions. The party has also called for the expansion of the Magee campus of the University of Ulster in Derry. The budget also saw the continuation of the £3,685 cap of on tuition fees as opposed to the £9000 sum inflicted by the Westminster Coalition Government. Through the Stormont House Agreement the party has also guaranteed that, under the Supplementary Benefits Fund, nobody on benefits will lose any money as a consequence of the Tory’s Welfare Reform programme. The Agreement concluded over Christmas demonstrated Sinn Fein’s commitment to protecting the vulnerable. Claims from some quarters that 20,000 public sector jobs will be cut are false as any redundancies will be voluntary as stipulated and no figure has been set to it.

Young people in the rest of Ireland could soon benefit from such protection and political representation, as Sinn Fein gears towards Government south of the border. Sinn Fein’s National Chairperson Declan Kearney has already reached out to other left-wing groupings to form a left-wing alliance before the next southern General Election. A move which has been endorsed by SIPTU President Jack O’Connor. SyrizaAs the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in his acceptance speech:
“Today is a new beginning. A victory by Syriza will be followed by Podemos in Spain and next year Sinn Fein in Ireland.”
It is imperative that radical students and young people of goodwill here in Britain build solidarity and forge contacts with young comrades in Ireland – there is much that can be learnt from each other.

For those interested in learning more about Sinn Fein’s choices coming into 2015, the party is hosting a Public Event titled ‘Choices for 2015 and beyond’ on Wednesday 11 February at 7pm. This takes place in the Wilson Room, Portcullis House, House of Commons, London SW1A OAA and will be addressed by Conor Murphy MP, MP for Newry & Armagh and senior party member; Senator David Cullinane, Workers Rights spokesperson in the south; and Cllr Catherine Seeley, Deputy Mayor of Craigavon Council & Upper Bann Westminster Candidate. The meeting will be chaired by political manager for the Sinn Fein MP Office Jayne Fisher. To register you attendance or for further details please email: Further details can also be found here.

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Joe Dwyer at the Youth Congress with delegates from NUI Galway