Social issues and referendums we can get behind, but politicians and political parties, not so much

Edaein O'Connell is a politically engaged young person but she does not identify with any political party. She finds many of her friends in the same position. Here, she asks why this is and speaks to various Irish politicians on the topic.


Politically, who are we?

The Americans and British seem to have it clear cut; Democrats or Republicans and Conservatives or Labour respectively. But for us Irish, it's more of a blurred line.

The marriage equality and abortion referendums profoundly changed our political landscape. Two shifts which enveloped the younger generations and made the politically disengaged of us altogether engaged.

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Young people felt the power of their vote. They felt they had a say in how Ireland was shaped and how their future on this island would look. The repressive and laconic Ireland of yore was shutting down and restarting to become a more inclusive, equal and free country.

However, on the back of these colossal changes, many of us began to question where we fit in this political sphere.

All in

Many of us who are in our early to mid-twenties feel detached from our politicians and the country's politics. We can't identify with a political institution.

I was taught how to vote in 6th class on a fake ballot and made my decision by voting for candidates that I heard snippets about through my parents. Discussing this with friends, we concluded that on the next occasion of a general election we would quite possibly use the same lottery system we used when we were innocent and bright-eyed primary school products.

We are not ignorant about politics, nor are we completely oblivious. We are passionate campaigners. We are socially engaged. We push against the institution. We talk about Trump. We panic about Brexit. We yearn for the end of the housing crisis. And we ponder over every social issue that balances in between.

But our politicians seem to drift further and further into the ether away from our politically wanting grasps. Many of us who are in our early to mid-twenties and many who are older feel detached from our politicians and the country's politics. We can't identify with a political institution.

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Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are now one and the same and are morphing into their unaffectionately known moniker-Fianna Gael. Labour, Sinn Féin and People before Profit are just some of what we have left on offer as a nation, but none have quite captured the imagination and consciousness of the young people. And having the entire political convocation as independents with their own ideal doesn't bode well for any future political progress.

However, political alliance or not, with a movement such as REPEAL, we were all in. Our youth bulldozed forward with fires blazing and figurative guns loaded with political ammunition. Social issues and referendums we can get behind, but politicians and political parties, not so much.

Why is this?

Why the disconnect?

Why are young people disconnected from politicians? Because all they see is a Huddy Duddy in a suit, who doesn't give a flying feck about them.

I asked three key social and political players what they thought.

TD Michael Healy Rae believes that we are losing connection, one of the most basic human needs. "The reason why there is a disconnect is that politicians don't go out of there way to make a connection. It's all about creating awareness. I've been to every house in North Kerry, it's an unusual thing for me if I meet you and don't know you. If you are from Brosna or Cahersiveen the odds are I've been in your house."

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Healy Rae visits schools on a regular basis and says that providing young people with this early awareness is vital when it comes to later life and makes them believe that someone cares, he continues "Why are young people disconnected from politicians? Because all they see is a Huddy Duddy in a suit, who doesn't give a flying feck about them."

Chairman of Amnesty International Colm O' Gorman believes the referendums spoke to the zeitgeist of our time, "They are issues that an awful lot of young people can relate directly to, they are either about their own lives or they are about the lives of people close to them or they are really big questions that go to the heart of what kind of country we are and what kind of country we should be."

"For a very long time, mainstream politics didn't really reflect the level of concern or energy that existed around those campaigns. And there was a narrative with politicians and even the mainstream media that these were not issues that most people cared about. Political reporting sometimes doesn't really understand where people are at and many are now not looking to those outlets for political analysis they are looking to each other or people they admire and respect and looking more to online discourse."

Engaging younger voters

Young people are engaged and it is up to us to be part of that empowerment whether they associate themselves with a party or not.

A woman who has managed to successfully capture the attention of a younger generation is Senator Lynn Ruane. She is passionate about engaging younger voters and is quick to point out that although many may think younger people are not engrossed, she thinks the opposite: "I think we often confuse politics with a capital P and politics with a small p, which in turn creates the idea that young people aren’t political. We place so much focus on the small minority of people within government and some feel they represent what politics is all about, which is just not the case."

She believes that if we look around us we would see clearly the activists and students who are passionate about social change but she is aware that there is a long way to go before politics and politicians in Ireland show exactly what they stand for in a changing Ireland. She believes it is up to politicians themselves to interact with their younger constituents and make those vital connections saying, "This is why it is so important to engage with young people and that is why myself and Fintan Warfield have been pushing for the vote to be lowered to 16. Young people are engaged and it is up to us to be part of that empowerment whether they associate themselves with a party or not."

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Out of touch

Those in power are responsible for our generation and the future of those who come after us. We fear that ultimately, we will be let down.

Politicians seem out of touch with the country that trundles behind them. They remain faceless in their pursuits and sometimes seem cold and oblivious to the realities that this country must face. Helplessness is what we feel. There won't be the same energy around a general election as there has been around referendums. We can't procure a referendum for every social issue that angers us, but we were vocal in those instances because we had command with our vote. In the case of a general election, we put our future in the hands of others who we can't wholeheartedly depend on.

Climate change, one of the most concerning issues of our times, remains a stagnant issue in the hands of our government. Rents are still unattainable. Consent is blurry. Women don't feel protected in the eyes of the law. We contend with a fractured healthcare system. The areas that raised us are declining. And the country starts and stops in the city of Dublin. Those in power are responsible for our generation and the future of those who come after us. We fear that ultimately, we will be let down.

Fight for us

We listen to each other and depend on ourselves to fight social issues. But a scream into the political vortex will only take you so far. The age of voting solely on the basis of a political party is over, and maybe it's a good thing that we vote now on the individual and not the association.

Furthermore, there are politicians such as Kate O' Connell and Senator Ruane who seem to understand the importance of speaking to and for the younger electorate, but we need more individuals who truly understand us.

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We need someone to engage with us. Understand us. Listen to us. And fight for us.

As of now, there is a void between us and them.

Because that is the state of Ireland.

That is the state of our politics and our youth.

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