The protesters who refuse to be shown the door
The We’re Not Leaving campaign is fighting back against emigration and the Government’s budget cuts
Outside the Dáil last week, I stood at the front of a long line of young people at a door we set up marked “Emigration”. The other door – marked “€100”, representing the dole payment under-25s will receive after cuts introduced in the budget – had no one lined up in front of it. We were there to protest against this latest attack on the young people of Ireland, to tell the Government we’ve had enough.
I’m 24 and, as I have already claimed jobseeker’s benefit, I won’t be affected by the most recent cuts. But I am still on a reduced payment of €144, and struggle to get by. How can they think a 24-year-old has fewer material needs than someone who is 26? We eat just as much food, and pay just as much rent. Reducing the payment further to just €100 will push many people over the edge.
There is an assumption young people don’t need as much financial support because we can live with our parents, but I live in Dublin because I have to. I moved from Co Clare six years ago to start a degree in fine art at the National College of Art and Design. I am trying to begin a career in graphic design, getting bits and pieces of work here and there, but I have to be in Dublin for that.
As our dole payments fall, the cost of living creeps up. Transport fares will increase this month, and rent has soared, which affects young people disproportionately. A lot of my friends have had to leave their homes in Dublin city centre because the rent has gone up so much.
Living in poverty
Most landlords won’t accept rent allowance, so we struggle to pay for a place to live out of the €144 we get per week. We live in poverty as a result, and for a lot of young people, emigration seems like the only solution.
But many of us can’t even afford to leave. It costs money to buy tickets for a flight, pay for visas, and have enough set aside to get by in a new place until you start earning. How can we save for that when we’re barely scraping by as it is?
Just like many other young people who are still here, I love living in Ireland and will do all I can to stay. That’s why I became involved in the We’re Not Leaving campaign.
Despite the name, it is not just a campaign against forced emigration. We chose that phrase because it is defiant. We’re here to stay, so things need to be fixed. We have to solve all the problems that are driving so many out – precarious work, internship culture, third-level grant cuts and fee hikes, mental health, housing and youth unemployment.
The Government doesn’t seem to be interested in keeping young people here, in enabling them to live a fulfilled life so they can contribute way to society. They see young people as easy targets, and emigration as a safety valve. We are being made to pay for a crisis we did not create.
It’s indicative of a sick society, if a country can’t look after its young people. It is a very short-term outlook, with no regard for the future.
We are trying to foster a broad youth movement that can put pressure on the Government, come up with meaningful and sustainable alternatives, and allow young people to fight back.
We’re also trying to get emigrants themselves involved. Because they have no voting rights or official representation, it is difficult for them to stay politically connected to the country where they would prefer to be living but can’t.
Social media is the strength of the campaign, and we are spreading word through existing youth groups. In Dublin on November 9th, we are holding a national forum where young people can articulate the challenges they face and discuss potential solutions.
The message we want to send is clear. Young people are the future of this country, and we are not leaving.
In conversation with Ciara Kenny
This article appears in the Life pages of The Irish Times today. See facebook.com/werenotleaving