The New Government Will Force Young People To Emigrate Again

By Kevin Donoghue, Union of Students in Ireland President

In the run up to the election Enda Kenny proudly proclaimed that the country was back at work and it was time for our young emigrants to return to a country and an economy in recovery. At the time, few saw it as little more than a pre-election gimmick designed to make us believe that this Fine Gael-led recovery was working and things were in fact getting better. Perhaps even Enda thought that if he just said it often enough then it would become the truth.

Having watched friends step onto planes, into unpaid internships or exploitative contracts I was somewhat annoyed by the statement. What has left me furious was the speed with which the new government has abandoned the message. The message coming from the halls of power since the formation of the new government have been decidedly anti-youth and though they have varied across departments they have all said one thing to those of us under the age of 30: get out.

In recent months we have had a health minister take away €12 million in funding ‘ring-fenced’ for mental health. Considering we have one of the highest rates of youth suicide this appears to be a particularly callous move. After we reflect on it and examine the issue it is still a callous and poorly considered move.

In another blow to those wanting to work in the health sector the HSE has decided there will be no recruitment of new nurses, doctors or midwives until further notice leaving another tranche of students wondering which country they should emigrate to.

To put the cherry on top of the cake, recent reports suggests that the registration fee for third level should increase from €3,000 to €4,000 and a loan scheme should be introduced to cover it. Far from considering the demerits of increasing the second highest tuition fee in Europe it would appear the document claims that four thousand euro a year is not enough and further increases should be considered.

The lack of creativity and capacity for long term thinking among those calling for fees and loans is simply gob-smacking. Proponents of loan schemes will repeatedly claim that firstly, free education is unworkable and secondly, we won’t end up like the UK. They do this while also advocating increases in fees that bring us much closer to UK levels and further away from the publicly-funded models across Europe they claim are impossible here. Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland all offer free education. The registration fee in France is €180 – €2,820 cheaper than the Irish registration fee. Publicly-funded education is not impossible. If it was, so many other countries in Europe wouldn’t offer it.

Perhaps worse than all of this is the disdain young people are often met with when it comes to airing any of our concerns. It unreasonable for me to suggest that a graduate, with 18 years of school behind them, should be able to earn the living wage when they work a fortune 500 multinational.

My aspiration for a properly funded education system that focuses on learning and not just job creation is unrealistic. I’ve been told I only make the assertion that the staff should be paid an adequate salary and that parents should be able to send their kids to college without accumulating a life time of debt because I “don’t understand how things work”.

My concerns and the concerns of my colleagues and the five hundred young people who protested outside the Dáil on mental health issues went completely ignored. In fact, as a representative of so many young people I am often met with complete silence by those in power, resolute in the knowledge that the issues of young people are either irrelevant or not important enough to treat seriously.

None of our politicians will admit their indifference and I would hazard a guess that many of them actually believe it when they say they care about the youth of the nation but the actions and policies of government in recent years would very much indicate otherwise.

Job bridge, unpaid internships, increasing fees, recruitment embargoes, social welfare payments, poor working conditions, lack of opportunity and accommodation and a feeling among our legislators that we just have it too good indicate that the “new politics” of the 32nd Dáil mean business as usual for young people.

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