This autumn, students all over Ireland will be starting or returning to life on their college campuses, and those of a political mindset might consider joining one of the various political parties on campus. The below is my effort as President of Young Fine Gael (YFG) to woo you into joining us.
Founded in 1977 by Dr Garret FitzGerald as the ‘Conscience of Fine Gael’, YFG has been the largest, most active youth political entity in the country for just about our entire history. I’m sure that the reasons for this are manifold, but my impression as a member for 8 years and as President since March is that YFG’s success is down to our ability to distinguish ourselves from the rest, through our independence and our campaigning, as well as the social side of our organisation, and the dedication and commitment of our membership too.
Since YFG’s infancy, we have been independent in both thought and action from our parent party, Fine Gael, even though we subscribe wholeheartedly to its 5 Values of Equality of Opportunity, Free Enterprise and Reward, Security, Integrity and Hope. This means that unlike some of our lesser-spotted colleagues in other parties, YFG is not obliged to agree with our Fine Gael colleagues on everything they do. This means that we are free to agree with what we believe Fine Gael is doing right, but can also diverge and criticise what we believe is wrong.
What’s more is we have utilised this independence on plenty of occasions in the past, most recently on the status of History in the Junior Cert curriculum. The study of History is no longer compulsory at Junior Cert level, which YFG believes is a mistake on the part of the Minister and the Department of Education. Accordingly, we fought our “Know Your Past” campaign earlier this year, calling on the Department to reverse its decision as a matter of urgency. We lobbied, argued, and raised awareness of the issue before meeting with the Minister to discuss it and bringing our concerns to him; a facility the other youth wings have difficulty in accessing.
We are also in the throes of our ‘Pay Our Troops’ campaign, whose posters and petitions you will see decorating all of our recruitment stands, and whose videos you may have already noticed online. This campaign calls on the Minister and the Department of Defence to reinstate the pre-crash pay levels of the men and women who put their lives on the line for the rest of us each and every day; the members of the Defence Forces.
This campaign in particular has gained noticeable traction on social media, overwhelmingly in support of the campaign, and will culminate on September 19th with Young Fine Gael taking part in the March for Respect and Loyalty with veterans groups and activists, presenting our petition to the Minister at Leinster House. Unlike our rival organisations, YFG is heard and listened to throughout the corridors of power in which we make our opinions known.
You should also note a new piece of YFG policy from our most recent Summer School in Bundoran, which I am personally quite excited about. In July, YFG voted overwhelmingly in support of making Student Union membership optional, as opposed to the mandatory membership set-up that presently operates. Supported by arguments about personal liberty and the constitutional freedom of association, this policy developed as a result of the narrowly defeated effort to optionalise SU membership in Trinity last year; an effort in which many YFGers took leading roles. Suffice to say, this is a space which you should watch.
But policy and campaigning aside, as I mentioned earlier, our social aspect is also unrivalled. For €2 annually, YFG college branch members are invited to a host of events, activities and trips away all throughout the year.
Nationally, we organise a number of key, showpiece events where members from all across the country get together to discuss policy, debate, and generally have the craic. The annual highlight is our Garret FitzGerald Summer School, mentioned earlier. It is a July weekend of fun, friend-making, and political planning which was held this year in the beautiful town of Bundoran, Co. Donegal. Then, each August, our Munster members plan and host a weekend getaway organised around the annual Béal na mBláth commemoration of the murder of General Michael Collins in 1922.
Crowning all, however, is our National Conference which takes place every 18-22 months, and at which our new National Executive is elected in the presence of the party leader and (for the last number of years, and hopefully a number to come) Taoiseach. Hundreds of members descend on a chosen host-location for a weekend of elections, gala dinners, policy discussions and mystery events at which even the most stony faced anoraks are forced to crack a smile.
But in spite of all of that, if I was forced to decide what really makes YFG stand out, it has got to be the quality of our members. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that some of the greatest, most loyal, most steadfast friends I have, I made through YFG. People with whom I might have a stand up row over the meaning of a word in a policy motion, but with whom I will wholly expect to do shots with later that evening. Politics, difference-making, and networking aside, the friends you will make in YFG are what will make your membership worthwhile, and are what I happily endorse as the best reason to join the organisation.
So, with that in mind, I want to cordially invite you to join Young Fine Gael today and to get the taste for everything above that I have. If nothing else, this year we have stress balls and collapsible bottles, and if you‘re really lucky, Mallow News might make a meme out of you.