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General Election 2020: A student outlook

by Samantha Calthrop


The General Summary

At the time of writing, the Dáil is looking fairly hung and with little hope of a clear outcome any time soon. Sinn Féin got an overwhelming popularity surge this election, with 37 seats compared to FF’s 38 and FG’s 35 and claiming the largest amount of first-preference votes. Sinn Féin’s popularity has come as a shock to media and to the two larger parties, although was precedented by a strong anti-Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael movement. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have both ruled out the idea of coalition with Sinn Féin, Fine Gael have ruled out coalition with Fianna Fáil, and Sinn Féin have announced their openness to form a government with anybody. With a necessary 80 seats to form a government, no two of those big three can form a government together without the help of independents, the Green Party, or both— and the Green Party have tentatively expressed their reluctance to form a coalition with Fianna Fáil. The idea of a “Left Coalition” of every left-wing party under Sinn Féin would only work with every party’s agreement and propped up by a chunk of the independents, and has been ruled as possible but unlikely— but then again, so has every possibility so far. Mary Lou McDonald has given out a message towards the other left parties about coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael— “Don’t do it”.

Given that Sinn Féin only had 42 candidates in the running, it’s likely that a re-election would see them gaining seats.


Student voters

The 18-25 age group’s turnout was about the same as usual, despite the Saturday election. Sinn Féin snagged 32% of the first preference votes, compared to the next-highest FG’s 15%. As usual, this group voted greener and lefter than the others. Student issues weren’t listed in the exit polls on reasons for voting, although housing, pension age and jobs topped the list, two of which are certainly big concerns on-campus. Sinn Fein and the Green Party, two disproportionately popular parties with the youth vote, do have a general stance towards higher public funding, including education. UCC saw some (900) students register to vote during the SU’s Register to Vote drive, an impressive turnout.


The outlook for students

The drive towards affordable housing and healthcare has caused every party to make lofty social housing promises, but only some have promised rent freezes and and caps. Fine Gael, who implemented the increased €3000 student contribution fee, have promised not to increase registration fees further and ensure “good student experiences and job-ready graduates” via continuing funding exactly as they have been doing. Sinn Féin has plans to abolish third-level education fees at the cost of 243 million and to increase the student maintenance grant by 10%. Fianna Fáil has promised to freeze student fees (although their manifesto makes no strict promises about removing them), and have promised a higher maintenance fees increase of 20%, as well as more funding for universities and a restoration of postgraduate grants. While the reality of these promises is yet to be seen, we can assume that one of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin will be at least try pushing for those changes in the next four years.


The likely outcome

While the fate of the Dáil is as of yet unknown, a second FF/FG coalition is looking increasingly unlikely. Fine Gael have seen what coalition did to Fianna Fáil and have no desire to have it reversed on them, and Leo Varadkar has made statements expressing his desire for Fine Gael to act as an opposition party. An FF/FG government would also be a disastrous PR move, with an overwhelming anti-FF/FG sentiment driving Sinn Féin’s popularity forward. It is entirely likely that Ireland will see a government not lead by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil— for the first time since its legal foundation in 1937.