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Could these be our future politicians? Meet the fresh young faces of Irish student politics

These are the most powerful students in the country right now.

THE NEXT GENERATION of student leaders steps into the limelight this month as power changes hands at student unions (SUs) across the country.

Accommodation, third-level fees and maintenance grants will be among the key student issues of the next academic year. But unions will also likely hold sway over young voters in the upcoming general election, having mobilised thousands of students ahead of the recent same-sex marriage referendum.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the SU presidents you can expect to hear from over the coming months.

Jason Aughney, IT Blanchardstown

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A veteran of student politics at this stage, Aughney has just started a third term as president of Blanchardstown IT SU. The 25-year-old sports management and coaching graduate is a dab hand at event management, having organised everything from a Valentine’s Day chocolate party for singletons to a reptile petting zoo on campus in the past year.

Matthew Duke, St Angela’s College

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This 28-year-old graduate of health and disability studies is a vocal advocate for disability rights. Duke was a well-known student activist on campus prior to his election, having been a class rep, union development officer and deputy president of St Angela’s SU.

Colin Clarke, University of Limerick

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Clarke climbed his way up the ladder of Limerick student politics through a number of committee and council positions. The 23-year-old politics and economics student said he had his eye on the top SU job at UL from first year. His election campaign, #ULWantSum, generated considerable excitement on campus after securing the endorsement of internet celebrity Gordon Hill, the Wealdstone Raider.

Aidan Coffey, University College Cork

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This medicine student beat two other candidates for the position of UCC SU president, gaining campus-wide support as a long-time class rep and the former auditor of a student charity. The 22-year-old West Cork native has faced his own share of criticism in the past, however, having proposed a student council motion last year that invalidated all mandates secured by the union in the past five years.

Kevin Donoghue, Union of Students in Ireland

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Donoghue won a heated race earlier this year for the most senior position in Irish student politics. The new USI president made headlines soon after starting the job when he slammed Minister Leo Varadkar for drawing an unfavourable comparison between student unions and Syriza.

The NUI Galway graduate has identified grant reform and fully exchequer-funded education among his key priorities for the coming academic year. He was previously the USI’s vice president for academic affairs.

Shane Falvey, Cork IT

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Falvey, a 24-year-old business graduate, was vice president of CIT SU, overseeing its education policy, during the last academic year. He has four years of class rep experience and founded a campus charity in aid of cancer research.

Cillín Folan, IT Sligo

Cillín Folan Cillín Folan

Folan, another former SU vice president, is a 24-year-old business graduate from Oranmore. He helped to register nearly 1,000 IT Sligo students to vote ahead of the same-sex marriage referendum and ran for president unopposed.

Graham Higginbotham, DIT

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As vice president of DIT SU last year, this 27-year-old engineering graduate led 555 class reps and represented students in discussions for the TU4Dublin bid, a proposed merger of DIT, IT Blanchardstown and IT Tallaght. He describes himself as “self-motivated, charismatic and extremely passionate about safeguarding education.”

Jade Hogan, IADT

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Long-standing IADT SU activist Jade Hogan was also recently promoted by her fellow students, winning a two-way race to lead the union after a term as vice president. The Galway native, a production design graduate, has committed to improving college facilities and student feedback systems.

Phelim Kelly, NUI Galway

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Kelly, from Donegal, won a good deal of praise earlier this year for his “Failure Week” campaign aimed at reassuring first-year students disappointed with their exam results. The 23-year-old science student was education officer of NUIG SU at the time and beat four other candidates for the position of president.

Michael Kerrigan, Galway-Mayo IT

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This 24-year-old marketing graduate had two years of experience with GMIT SU – first as vice president for welfare and then as deputy president for education – before he was elected president.  The Kilconly native was a prominent mental health activist during the last academic year and co-authored the USI’s current three-year mental health strategy, “More Talk, More Action”.

Aaron Lawless, Dundalk IT

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Lawless, another marketing graduate, was a class rep before getting elected to the position of SU president. The 24-year-old Louth native used to play for Ireland’s under-18 basketball team and is a former captain of Dundalk IT’s basketball squad.

Dylan McGowan, Letterkenny IT

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This 23-year-old Leitrim native is a qualified personal trainer and former spokesperson for the Letterkenny IT LGBT society. He recently helped to organise a world record-breaking hula hoop workout to promote exercise among local schoolkids.

Matt O’Boyle, NUI Maynooth

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O’Boyle is a 21-year-old graduate of Irish and geography. The Meath native is a fluent Gaeilgeoir and served as president of NUI Maynooth’s Irish society, Cuallacht na Gaeilge. Some may recognise him as the ukulele player whose musical tribute at a brother’s wedding became a viral video last month.

Marcus O’Halloran, UCD

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This Tipperary man is a former auditor of one of UCD’s largest student societies, AgSoc. He sold that managerial experience throughout his election campaign, telling The University Observer that he rebuilt the society by cutting budgets and running it like a business. The agricultural science student overcame criticism of his involvement in a controversial male-only Facebook group to win a four-way presidential race with 40% of the vote.

Meadhbh Roche, Waterford IT

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Roche was elected president of Waterford IT SU after a year as its deputy president. The Wexford native has a degree in health promotion, and won awards for both student of the year and class rep of the year during her time in college. She is currently interning in Washington, having been accepted onto the Washington Ireland Programme, which provides six-week placements to emerging young Irish leaders.

Robert Rodrigues, National College of Ireland

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This 23-year-old Dubliner was a trooper with the Irish Defence Forces for a year and a half before he enrolled on a computing degree at NCI. Rodrigues told his army experience gave him the confidence to go back to education after he dropped out of college at 18. He says he wants NCI SU “to be the first step for students to becoming the next Bill Gates or Michael O’Leary.”

Kevin Ronan, Athlone IT

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Ronan, also 23, is a long-time student activist and was deputy president of Athlone IT during the last academic year. From Westmeath, he has just graduated with a degree in tourism and sport management, and is currently a part-time postgraduate business student.

Lynn Ruane, Trinity College Dublin

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This anti-austerity activist and former drugs addiction worker galvanised support from her fellow students when she vowed to fight college cutbacks during her successful election campaign earlier this year.  From Tallaght, Ruane came to Trinity through its access programme after having left school when she became pregnant at the age of 15. She is studying for a degree in politics, philosophy, economics and sociology.

Ben Slimm, IT Tralee

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Slimm, a 26-year-old media graduate, has eight years of experience in student politics. He was equality officer and then communications officer with IT Tralee SU before being elected to serve a second term as union president. He grew up in Kerry and won his first student election in 2007, when he was voted onto the USI’s LGBT working group.

Kim Sweeney, DCU

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This 23-year-old Wicklow woman is another veteran of student activism, having been a senior school convenor and class rep before she was elected president of DCU SU. Sweeney is a graduate of analytical science and well-known face in DCU society circles as the former head of the campus branch of the Global Brigades, a global health and sustainable development organisation.

Ruairí Tubrid, St Patrick’s College

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The new president of St Pat’s SU is a 22-year-old primary school teaching student who was previously the union’s equality officer. The Wexford native told that he is “in no way politically minded” and ran for the position because of the friends and experiences he has had in college.

Jessica Wall, IT Tallaght

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Wall is the first female president of IT Tallaght SU in 12 years and will lead an all-female team this year. The 22-year-old business graduate captained the ITT ladies’ GAA team to an All-Ireland final a few months ago. She plans to organise more campus events and launch a monthly online magazine for students.

Chris Walshe, Limerick IT

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This Clare native has a good few years of SU experience under his belt, having served two previous terms as president of Limerick IT SU. The 23-year-old business student runs a sound and lighting production company, and was previously the union’s entertainment officer.

Read: The 30 hottest young politicos in Ireland right now >

Read: Advice for students looking for accommodation >

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