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Students criticised for failing to get out the vote in children's referendum

The Union of Students in Ireland has been criticised by Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell in the wake of the low turnout in the children’s referendum last weekend.

Students during a 'Get Out and Vote' campaign in 2009 (File photo)
Students during a 'Get Out and Vote' campaign in 2009 (File photo)
Image: James Horan/Photocall Ireland

A FINE GAEL TD has said that he is disappointed that student groups did not campaign to get out the vote in the children’s referendum last weekend.

Alan Farrell said that the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) did not appear to have “done anything on this referendum” saying that he is disappointed by this given it was one of the main reasons he had so strongly advocated weekend or rest day voting.

Traditionally students have complained of finding it difficult to vote during elections or referenda as they are usually based away from their constituency during the academic year.

The overall turnout of 33.5 per cent has cast doubt on the future of weekend voting.

It was thought that students would be the largest group to benefit from Saturday voting, a measure that Farrell hopes can be introduced for all future elections and referenda through legislation that he is proposing.

USI insisted that it did organise a registration drive and encouraged local students’ unions to urge the student body to vote in the referendum.

Farrell told TheJournal.ie this week: “One of the primary reasons I pitched my bill earlier in the year was because students have been calling for this since I was in college in Waterford.”

Voter registration

Although there is no official data which outlines the level of voting among students in this particular referendum, Farrell said that the lack of public comment from the USI on the referendum had disappointed him.

The USI did not take any official stance on the referendum but said in response to Farrell’s comments that it did organise voter registration drives, as it does at the beginning of every academic year, with the children’s referendum in mind.

“There was a lot of getting out the word on the ground with students’ unions. A lot of them had stalls on campuses and stuff like that,” a spokesperson said.

Trinity College Students’ Union was one group which did put a number of posts concerning the referendum on its Facebook page, urging students to vote but there was no nationally organised campaign through the USI.

Prior to the plebiscite, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said that the country’s 160,000 students had been given the opportunity to vote “after long years of campaigning”.

“I hope that in particular, they take this opportunity to exercise their vote on an issue which, as young people – perhaps with younger brothers and sisters – is extremely relevant,” he said earlier this month before the vote.

The President of the USI, John Logue, did not return a request for comment.

Read: ‘Day of the week didn’t cause low turnout,’ insists TD who backs weekend voting

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Hugh O'Connell

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