Power Play

From Aristotle to Ahern, Plato to Parnell and Kennedy to Kenny, politics and power have been at the heart of society for thousands of years.

Today, the game is still at the centre of modern life, even though the players and systems have changed.

Politics is most commonly associated with the things “this government” aren’t doing to fix the mess “that government drove us into”.  “Politicians, sure they’re all the same”, says the man giving a vox pop to the local radio station. Disenchantment is widespread.

At University level throughout the country there’s talk of the “careerists” in USI and the Union ‘cliques’ in certain institutions. “The popular people are the ones that win the SU Elections”, one UCD student was overheard to say at their most recent election count.

So if all that is true then why on earth would anyone consider getting involved in the ‘fun house’ that is modern day politics at any level?

“I decided to get involved in SU politics because I truly believed that it was a way to make a difference in student life”, explains UCC SU Equality Officer Audrey Walsh.  “Beginning college as the economic downturn really began to affect students, it seemed to me to be more important than ever to make students voices heard in the political arena and I wanted to be one of those voices.”

Walsh has served as a class rep twice, was previously UCCSU’s Gender Equality officer and recently ran for Welfare officer but did not win the election.

She admits that SU politics is marred by a democratic deficit due low voter turnout.

“I think that there is a duty on all SU Executives to work hard to promote transparency and stem the awful tide of political apathy among students. However it is also the responsibility of students to educate themselves on the issues and make informed decisions on candidates running. It’s the Students’ Union after all.”

Outside University Walsh is also active with Labour Youth. Youth wings of political parties have become increasingly popular in recent years and it among those ranks that DCU student Keith Hoare is politically active.

“I was the tender age of 14 when I joined Young Fine Gael”, Hoare expounds. The political bug bit him when his father was campaigning for the local Hospital Action Committee in the 2002 General Election.

”I remember sitting in front of the TV glued to RTE’s election coverage of the results and whatever it was, I could not get away from it.”

He has no family background in politics and says, “something in my mind attached to Fine Gael and I do not know what it was. Not long after that election passed we got a leaflet in the door from my local FG TD Denis Naughten where there was an option to join up and I did.”

Hoare believes that politicians can effect real change.

“It’s the politicians who can be described as honest, decent and motivated by wanting to do their country proud that really make the difference.  That is because they manage not only to improve things but they are able to bring the people with them.  A politician who can do the courageous thing and manage to bring the people, young and old with him/her is the politician who can make a real difference”, he says.

Hoare believes that ordinary citizens have the power to change things too. “Last month, DCU YFG in a committee discussion agreed on a motion for conference calling on the government to legislate for gay adoption.  After previous rejections of similar motions, National Conference this year voted to accept this. Now, DCU YFG has changed the policy of YFG,” he explains.

“If you’re motivated and driven by wanting to do the best for your country then you will find that it is that very passion itself that will see you make a difference in one form or another.”

Cllr Chris Bond agrees. The South Dublin County Councillor first became involved with the Labour Party when he was 17 years old and went on to become active with the UCD branch of the youth wing, UCDSU and USI.

“Politicians need to lead by example and prove that they are in fact in it to make a difference”, Bond argues. He agrees that this isn’t always the case but says he is aware of many situations politicians have taken the lead on issues like Crime, Public Transport and Local Services and made a huge difference to people’s quality of life.

Bond recognizes that the Irish people are becoming disillusioned with politics. “Serious reform of the political system is needed and I think all parties will agree on that. There needs to be a serious debate on issues, not just a back and forth partisan game and constant posturing” he says. Bond believes that unless action is taken people will no longer want to get involved in politics.

Keith Hoare has a more positive outlook.  “Whenever unpopular decisions are being made, particularly austerity measures, faith in politics falls but this is simply a cycle, which occurs in every generation”, he argues,

“Things will pick up in the next 3-4 years and people will move on again with pride and a sense of relief. I actually think this poses a great opportunity to get involved in politics, whether it be through a youth political party or whatever route.  If people want to ensure that the mistakes of the past are avoided and if people want to make a difference in their country, then politics is the avenue to seek that input.”

However there is one thing that Walsh, Hoare and Bond agree on: politics has historically been a boy’s game. “Politics is a boys club and I’m ashamed of that”, says Hoare. “To have 15% women in the Dáil when party membership is pretty much equal between men and women, is a disgrace which is man-made.”

He wants to see gender quotas introduced. “At the moment, there are many politicians who are there and simply contribute nothing. They get on the ballot paper not because of merit or anything else other than incumbency. We need fresh politics, a better representative politics and that is one where women are at its heart.”

“There needs to be an overwhelming push at the grassroots level for women to become involved in politics”, Walsh argues. “Quotas at local election level would help but so would targeted mentoring schemes and better political education in Secondary Schools, inspiring and enabling young women to take their first steps into political life.”

UCD’s Rachel Breslin can count herself among those who have taken a giant leap. The former UCDSU Welfare Officer was recently elected Students’ Union President, the first woman to win the role in over 18 years.

DCUSU has had four female Presidents in the last 12 years, could there be a fifth for 2012/13?

Politics: it’s a really crazy show where anything goes. Why do people get involved? To make a difference? Or because it’s a whole lot of fun and there are prizes to be won?

Either way, don’t forget, you have to use your brain if you want to play the game.

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