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Class issues: Students’ election concerns at Donohoe’s old school

20-January-20
Class issues: Students’ election concerns at Donohoe’s old school

Class issues: Students’ election concerns at Donohoe’s old school

Extract from The Sunday Business Post

by Michael Brennan Political Editor

Politics students at Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe’s old school believe that housing is the No 1 general election issue.

That is what I learnt from a discussion with 22 fifth- and six-years in St Declan’s College in Cabra in Dublin last week.

They are among the first students to be taking Politics and Society as a Leaving Cert subject following a pilot scheme in 41 schools.

Their general election concerns included not only health, climate change and the direct provision system but also the legalisation of marijuana, Brexit, the living wage and the now-postponed state commemoration of the RIC.

I had been invited to speak to the students about politics and the media by their class teacher, Colin Rickard. He distributed a short questionnaire on my behalf, asking their top three election issues.

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Housing and homelessness was the single biggest issue, chosen by 17 of the 22 students. I discussed their responses with them while agreeing not to quote anyone by name because most of the class were under 18.

“I personally think it’s outrageous how the cost of rent is rapidly increasing so much even though the standard of living is not increasing,” said one student. “It’s just artificial inflation by greedy landlords.”

There were concerns about the “gentrification” of the area in Cabra where the school is located. The opening of the cross-city Luas line and the area’s proximity to the city centre has made it more attractive for house hunters. “I think buying a house in Cabra is not going to happen any more for me,” said one student.

St Declan’s is on the cusp of two constituencies, with posters for candidates for Dublin Central on one side of the school and for Dublin West candidates on the other.

Donohoe himself visited the school last October with Fine Gael‘s two Dublin West candidates, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael councillor Emer Currie.

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During our discussion on the general election issues, there were plenty of mentions of the health system, with students looking for “HSE reform”, and “more hospital beds” and “combating the mental health crisis”.

One described in his questionnaire how students were using computers and television to escape from the reality of living in “concrete jungles” with “artificial lighting and noisy vehicles”. “Of course your mental health will suffer. In the future, when machines become even more connected to people, it’ll get more prominent,” he wrote.

Some students felt that social media was causing more mental health problems for young people. I asked them if that was due to cyberbullying or the pressure to look like Love Island contestants such as Limerick’s Greg O’Shea. “Could be both,” said one student.

A delegation of students from the school took part in two big climate change school strikes last year which were inspired by Greta Thunberg. Nine of the 22 students mentioned climate change as a key election issue. However, one expressed a contrary view.

“I personally believe it’s a bunch of climate alarmists just like Greta Thunberg rowdying up everyone. It’s an issue obviously but I don’t believe Ireland can do much about it but complain. The real big ones are India, China and America and they all don’t comply with the Paris accord,” he said.

Three students put down the “legalisation of marijuana” as an issue for them in the general election.

Another two students mentioned the government’s now-postponed plans to hold an event to commemorate the role of the RIC in the War of Independence.

The students displayed a relatively good knowledge of the main party leaders, which was another part of my questionnaire. All of them could identify Varadkar, Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald as leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. But four students named Labour Dublin West TD Joan Burton as Labour leader, which might be a slight concern to Brendan Howlin.

The same local factor might be responsible for four students naming local Green Party councillor Roderick O’Gorman – who is running for the party in Dublin West – as party leader instead of Eamon Ryan.

Their teacher reminded the handful of students in the class aged over 18 that they would need to register very quickly to be able to vote in the general election. Naturally, a class of politics students would be expected to be interested in the general election. But overall, I was very impressed with their ability to identify and discuss some of the key issues in the campaign.

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