By Fergal McFerran, President of NUS-USI
The student movement in Northern Ireland has a history that each and every one of us can be proud of. It is a history of campaigning which at its core has the values of collectivism, equality, social justice and fairness.
Those are the values on which I want to build our work for the year ahead. And if the academic year that has just ended has done anything, difficult though it was, it has prepared us all more robustly for what is to come.
Right across Northern Ireland, students, whether they have at times realised it or not, have faced the brunt of the consequences of a dysfunctional and ineffective Assembly and when we came together at our Annual Conference earlier this year we began to set out our stall and say, “enough is enough”.
The year that lies in front of us is one of great challenge, but it is more importantly one of incredible opportunity. An opportunity that the student movement must, can and will grasp with both hands.
The Northern Ireland Assembly elections which are due to take place in 2016 are not an end goal, they are simply our starting point. In the weeks and months ahead I will work alongside students’ unions not only to make sure that students are registered to vote, but that students’ unions are hubs of political activity and discussion. We, the student movement in Northern Ireland must become a driving force for creating a new culture of accountability within politics here to ensure that our members, the student body in Northern Ireland are no longer forgotten and neglected.
Reflecting on the proud history that the student movement has, we must recognise the responsibility that has now been passed onto us. Just as we reflect on the leadership shown by student leaders across Great Britain and Ireland during the troubles in Northern Ireland we should tell ourselves that when the opportunity arose for us to make an immeasurable impact in our communities and wider society, we rose to the challenge.
And so my challenge to any student reading this is simple, allow your students’ union to be the vehicle of change through which you begin to deliver the change in society that you want to see, and let’s work together to ensure that Northern Ireland becomes a place grounded in the values of equality, social justice and fairness.