Over 200 students registered to vote in the space of just two hours in Athlone Institute of Technology this week, as a major campaign to get students registered to vote swept across the country.
Energised by concerns over grants, fees, and payments for work placements, AIT students are adamant that their voices will be heard on polling day this February 25.
This week alone, AIT Students’ Union reported sending over 200 completed registration forms to 14 different local authorities, the majority of which are for students who live in the Longford-Westmeath constituency, as well as across the Midlands in Roscommon, Offaly, Laois, and Galway.
Union of Students in Ireland (USI ) officers and members of the Gardai visited AIT on Wednesday this week as part of the ‘Your Future, Your Vote’ campaign, setting up stands on campus to allow students to register on the spot.
Nationally, the USI is aiming to register 50,000 students over a two-week period, in order to increase student turnout at the upcoming General Election.
Deputy president of AIT Students’ Union, Louise Kane, said among students’ chief concerns were the changes to the non-adjacent grant rate and the increase in student tuition fees.
“If you are not getting the grant it is a huge amount to pay; no one can come up with €2,000 in fees. Part-time jobs aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. Mature students who have families and mortgages are also affected,” explained Ms Kane.
“In the next few days and weeks we will be making decisions on who to vote for. I will have a few questions for politicians when they come to my door.”
Another major concern for some students is the proposal to phase out payments to fourth year nurses who are on work placements - a cause which the USI is taking up with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO ), with a series of stoppages and a joint press conference being planned in the coming weeks.
USI president Gary Redmond said the mood on the ground among students is radically different from previous general elections.
“You hear that young people don’t vote and are not interested, but we are having to make no effort to sign up students, they are coming to us. We have registered tens of thousands of students, and we will be encouraging them to vote according to the various policies of the parties.
“The four main issues we will be looking at are tuition fees, student supports and grants, the graduate unemployment crisis, and the economy. Based on what the parties say in the coming weeks we will be encouraging students to vote in a particular way.”
AIT president Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin this week joined in the call to encourage students to get on the electoral register and to vote on election day.
“The functioning of any democracy is dependent upon the citizens being active participants. Casting your vote in the General Election is central to that process and to the future of the country.
“I would recommend to students that they read all the election literature, ask questions of those seeking their support, and make an informed decision on how to cast their vote. We must actively shape the future of the country and a crucial date in that process is February 25. Make sure that you are registered and get out and vote.”