News Analysis: Irish Politics – The youth perspective

 
 

The results of this newspaper’s recent survey provided many telling results as regards students’ attitudes to politicians

For many years now the question of the disengagement of young people and politics has been brought to fore, with more and more campaigns being mounted to encourage more participation in politics among those who are perceived to be the future of the country.

Additionally, the question of political reform is currently being floated, with websites such as www.politicalreform.ie being among those forums where many young people are contributing their opinions on political reform. The University Observer this week conducted a survey among students with these two key issues in mind with the aim of analysing the role of politics in young people’s lives and the links between young people and political reform.

85 per cent of those surveyed reported that they would like to see the introduction of more young politicians. 88 per cent said that they do not trust politicians’ judgements. Yet just 12 per cent classed themselves being very politically engaged.

The list of youth political organisations such as Young Fine Gael and Ógra Fianna Fáil is quite long, but that is irrelevant as not only do their membership numbers fail to be representative of the youth population, but also additionally they are rarely regarded as up-and-coming politicians.

Additionally, with just 12 per cent of those surveyed claiming to be heavily engaged in politics, it is easy to see that something needs to be done to encourage more activity in these organisations. One means of encouragement would be if politicians began to take the ideas of such groups on board and consult them for opinions, ideas and potential recruitment. The burning question here is whether or not young people possess the knowledge and learnedness to be active in politics, and whether or not they feel becoming more politically active would make a difference.

The University Observer asked those being surveyed what they would do to turn the political and economic situation in the country around. Ideas such as paid compulsory attendance at the Dáil, an end to party politics, and changes to the electoral system were proposed. When asked of their opinion of the role young people have to play in politics, one student said: “Ideally they should play as much of a role as every other grouping in Irish society, but unfortunately politicians tend to dismiss the opinions of students.”

What do these results tell us? While just 12 per cent are heavily politically engaged, students undoubtedly do have ideas for the running of the country. Thus, it is fair to say the students may become more engaged in politics if politicians made more of an effort to make students feel like their opinions are valued. It’s not that students need to be encouraged to participate in politics, but it is more the case that there is no one in government that they can identify with.

The student disaffection demonstrated by these results is summarised in the opinion of one student who answered a question regarding their predictions for the future of the country: “Economically it will get better, but not for a few years, and not without a huge input from students, young people and entrepreneurs.”

Politicians need to start accepting the fact that while the majority of students have opinions and ideas, young people are disengaged with politics and that it is time politicians took their proposals on board, in particular their proposals for political reform. How can a political system that is almost 90 years in existence be attractive to young people today? Additionally, the young adult population of Ireland is the most educated and therefore possesses the highest level of abilities to improve and reform the current situation in the country, so why are they still being ignored?

With the resignation of many long-serving TDs in recent weeks and the announcement from many more of their intention not to run in the general election, it seems that the first step may have already been made in ensuring the more young people are elected to the Dáil. In what will almost undoubtedly be a new era in Irish politics, perhaps politicians will throw out the old order and start to accept the fact that students are probably the ones with the best ideas and arguably possess the highest potential to change the country, the economic and political situations for the better.

Finally, something that struck me from the survey was that it became obvious that young people feel politicians do not value their opinions and that the old order does not relate to them. One student summarised this general feeling when asked if they had any further thoughts on the state of Irish politics today: “The country needs to move beyond Civil War politics. New political parties to replace both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael may be in order.”

Irish politics today rejects the fact that those who have the most potential to change and improve the system for the better are being pushed aside, and as a result, are becoming more and more disengaged with the political system. It remains unforeseen if this trend is set to continue or change for the better.

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