By Aaron Deering
With NUI Galway’s Students’ Union elections coming up, I decided to investigate the history of our Students’ Union. I interviewed Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley from the History Department on the history of social movements, and why she thinks Students’ Unions and student movements are still important today.
NUI Galway Students’ Union was originally established in 1911 as the Students’ Representative Council. It wasn’t until the 1960s when the council was developed into the University’s Students’ Union, which was previously known as Comhairle Teachta na Mac Léinn.
It’s no surprise that past presidents of the Students’ Union, which include President of Ireland Michael D Higgins, former TD and Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte, former TD and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Senator Ronan Mullen have gone on to achieve greater political aspirations. In recent years the Students’ Union has been vocal on important student issues such as fees and the rising cost of student accommodation across Galway.
Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley spoke to SIN about her specialisation studying social movements in Britain, and her interest in Irish social movements.
“I teach a course on the history of social movements in Britain from 1945 to the present, and I am very interested in the history of social movements in the Irish context in my own research.”
“From 1945, Britain’s political and cultural landscape was changed by social movements campaigning on issues of gender, race, disability, sexuality, the environment, peace and anti-fascism.”
“In class we look at the more moderate campaigns in the 1950s, for example the Homosexual Law Reform Society, to more radical campaigning in the 1970s by those in the women’s liberation movement, the gay liberation front and the environmental movement.”
“I think students are very interested in the radicalism of individual movements, but also how fragmented they can become, often as a result of internal politics and the extent to which they affected the political agenda.”
Although she was never involved in her own Students’ Union in college, Dr Buckley highlighted her involvement in the campaign to repeal the Eight Amendment and the influential impact Students’ Unions have on campaigns.
“I do think they can be very influential in campaigns, for example the campaign to decriminalise homosexual acts in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. I was involved in the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment as a student in University College Cork in the early 2000s and I have always had an interest in left-wing politics, especially feminist politics.”
Finally, when asked if student movements and Students’ Unions were still important today, and if there are any differences from past student movements, Dr Buckley called for more student movements and highlighted their enduring value. “They are hugely important I think. Students have always brought energy and vision to movements and their participation is critical. We need more student movements, not less!”