Comment & Analysis
Feb 16, 2020

Students Just Helped Jolt Irish Politics. Third-Level May Not Benefit

Young people played a major role in an election of change, but there’s no guarantee of positive developments for higher education.

Léigh as Gaeilge an t-Eagarfhocal (Read Editorial in Irish) »
By The Editorial Board

The results of last week’s general election have been widely called sensational. With the historical duopoly of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael shattered, most commentators have proclaimed this election a harbinger of a new political era.

Sinn Féin’s surge won’t necessarily have delighted all students: while some will consider it a promising left-wing alternative to an unsatisfactory status quo, others may be suspicious of its historical links to violent Republicanism.

What can’t be denied, however, is that change is afoot – and the younger generation has played a significant role in that.


The youth of Ireland have long been a distinctly disenfranchised electorate. For years, it’s been taken for granted that students have little sway in elections, with the hitherto two-party system driving many to apathy. But in the wake of social movements such as the same-sex marriage referendum and repeal, it seems that young people are finding their political voice.

Of course, we can’t expect radical change overnight. The new government may end up looking not so very different from previous ones: plus, many students may already be disappointed about the lack of interest in pressing issues such as the climate crisis. But still, compared with previous elections, it’s safe to say a tide has turned.

What may, however, be an unprecedented shift for the young people of Ireland, could ultimately amount to a frustrating maintenance of the status quo for higher education. While much remains up in the air regarding the formation of government, it’s hard to imagine any possible political constellation making genuine change in the realm of third-level. The manifesto promises of most parties mostly overlooked core issues, such as funding, and the sector has, albeit understandably, been overshadowed by housing and health.

What’s more, the interests of many students may, in some ways, diverge from what’s best for the third-level sector: while many lobby groups felt that Fianna Fáil was offering the most in terms of policy proposals for third-level, the party is unlikely to have been most students’ first choice.

So, while we can be confident that change is on the horizon for Ireland and its younger generations, third-level education could be facing yet more time on the sidelines.