“Shouldn’t you just focus on tuition fees?”

By NUS-USI President Fergal McFerran

On Saturday I marched through the streets of Belfast in my second ever Pride Parade, and on Monday evening I took part in a panel discussion organised by Amnesty International as part of Féile an Phobail about the next steps to achieving Marriage Equality in Northern Ireland.

So it’s no surprise that I’ve been reflecting a lot on the importance of the work of the student movement in relation to civil rights, social justice and equality.

I talk an awful lot about the proud and unique history of NUS-USI, (which you can read more about here) but one of the things I’m constantly faced with is the question as to why marriage equality, or abortion, or a whole host of other issues are things that NUS-USI and the wider student population should be talking about.

I usually get asked something along the lines of, “Shouldn’t you just focus on tuition fees?”

And so here’s my response;

We talk about these issues because it’s about time politics in Northern Ireland started to better reflect the hopes of our people.

I believe in the transformative power of education. I believe that when we provide equal access to the opportunity to study to everyone in society then we afford them the opportunity to prosper and succeed in life and we create a holistically better society as a result.

And so when research shows that one in five LGB* and one in three trans students has experienced at least one form of bullying or harassment on their campus, then we will make no apology for talking about that, because those students are up to three times more likely to consider leaving their course as a result of it.

Marriage Equality is by no means the end goal in achieving equal civil rights for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, but it has become a symbolic debate that could pave the way for a much greater societal shift in understanding just how far we still have to go.

I make no apology for the fact that NUS-USI not just supports, but actively campaigns for marriage equality in Northern Ireland. I too make no apology for the fact that we campaign on a whole host of other issues.

We, as a movement have never been averse to having difficult conversations and I fully intend to uphold that tradition.

Ahead of the next Assembly election we’ll be incorporating key demands relating to greater legislative equality in Northern Ireland into our Student Manifesto. To let me know your thoughts just email me at Fergal.McFerran@nistudents.org.

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