What boom and bust taught me

With the economic crisis turning many people’s life plans on their heads, students and recent graduates talk about how their politics, social views and expectations changed during their college years

Sat, May 25, 2013, 01:00

‘We have all the skills to innovate but perhaps not the desire’
Rachel Breslin is 21 and is studying b usiness and l aw at University College Dublin

What is your view of society, and how do you hope it will change ?
People are a lot more cynical and a lot more cautious about things – not just the G overnment but about news that comes their way . I would like for Ireland to foster more of a sense of innovation. We have all the skills but perhaps not the desire to innovate. We really need to up our game.


How would you describe your personal politics?
Financially I’m very conservative, but my views on issues such as equality are very liberal. I don’t identify with any one political party, and I dip in and out of politics .


Do you believe young people have the power to e ffect change?
People who choose to engage in politics at my age don’t have much influence. Our system curtails young people . Particularly as a young woman, I feel cynical about it all.


Has the system failed us or are we responsible for our own success?
I don’t bear any bitterness towards the people who said it would be easy to get a job, because that was the attitude. It burst for everyone. We all rose up and we all fell down. Young people are doing a very good job of trying to accept it and to diversify more. It’ll probably make our generation a lot tougher and wiser.


Have our generation’s expectations changed?
I think we all still hold the same ambition that we did in school, but we think it’ll take us longer to get there and we know we’ll have to work harder. My class became more competitive and more eager to achieve.


‘I hope our generation will have more foresight’
Conor O’Toole is 22 and is a graphic d esigner

What is your view of society, and how do you hope it will change ?
I’m more disgusted with the world now than I was four years ago, but I also know more of the good bits . In the next 10 years I hope society will become more accepting of empowered women, ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ community, and just starts being a bit nicer to everyone.


How would you describe your personal politics?
Irish politics makes me immensely sad. The eternal tennis match of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael shows no signs of breaking for lunch, and it seems that any well-meaning party that goes into coalition with them is destined to be annihilated at the next election.


Do you believe young people have the power to e ffect change?
I bloody hope so. Trying to change a political landscape is frustratingly difficult, and it’s tempting to just move to a more palatable one. I don’t want to give up on Ireland , but if it’s going to be stubborn I will.


Has the system failed us or are we responsible for our own success?
I hope our generation will have more foresight than the previous one. It is hard not to harbour bitter feelings for the comfortable, established people who have left so little for our generation.


Have our generation’s expectations changed?
It is scary the money that some graduates, with multiple degrees, are expected to work for under the guise of internships. I know a number of people who work more than full-time jobs and earn less than the minimum wage . I am lucky to have a skill set that is valued. It means I can just about earn enough to get by without working crazy hours.


‘We have a responsibility to pull ourselves out of it’
Elizabeth Ahern -Flynn is 22 and is studying m edicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland


What is your view of society, and how do you hope it will change ?
During college I’ve realised there are more expectations put on me as a female, which I definitely didn’t come across before. You get comments such as, “That’s a good career as a woman, because you’ll have time to raise kids,” or, “That’s hard as a woman,” and I know they’re well meaning, but I don’t think any of my male friends get that. If those attitudes prevail on interview panels, they could work against women in the future.


How would you describe your personal politics?
I’d be slightly left of centre, but I wouldn’t align myself with particularly left parties. Economically I’d be left of centre, but socially I’d be much more left.


Do you believe young people have the power to e ffect change?
One of the problems is that you often have to join a political party to e ffect any change, and there’s not that much between them. A lot of the left parties are a bit too extreme. If you don’t subscribe to the ideologies of any one party, where do you stand?


Has the system failed us or are we responsible for our own success?
In terms of how the recession kicked off, we’re immune from any blame there. We couldn’t vote, and we weren’t taking out huge loans. Now that we can vote we have a responsibility to pull ourselves out of it. At the same time I don’t blame people who just leave because it is potentially an easier option.


Have our generation’s expectations changed?
I think people are thinking about emigrating a lot more than they were. It’s now not so much, “What scheme are you going to apply for?” It’s more like , “Where are you going to go?”


‘I hope society will focus more on social issues’
Mark O’Meara is 22 and studied computer science at Trinity College D ublin


What is your view of society, and how do you hope it will change ?
You still have the stereotype of Catholic Ireland, but we’re very quickly working to get rid of that. I think in the p ast few years Irish society has stayed on course as becoming far more liberal and moving away from the religious stereotype it’s been given. I hope society will focus more on social issues.


How would you describe your personal politics?
On the economy I am closer to Fine Gael, but on social issues I am closer to Labour. I’d describe myself as a centrist . I’m a member of Young Fine Gael, but I guess I’d be fa rther to the left than most people in it.


Do you believe young people have the power to e ffect change?
It’s only as young people are starting to have a voice that society has got a chance to focus on more social issues. I f anything changes on those issues in terms of G overnment policy it will be because young people have been campaigning on those issues.


Has the system failed us or are we responsible for our own success?
I remember my school career-guidance counsellor telling everyone to “ pick what you’re interested in: don’t focus on jobs”. I never bought into that, but I guess that was the attitude we all fell for. I wouldn’t say the system failed us. Society as a whole held the view that you didn’t need to worry about getting jobs. That was just the culture.


Have our generation’s expectations changed?
I don’t think expectations have changed much, because in computer science the job prospects seem to be just as good as when we came into college.


‘The Government has a terrible attitude to education’
Kerry Guinan is 21 and is studying f ine a rt – media at the National College of Art and Design

What is your view of society, and how do you hope it will change ?
I’ve become extremely disillusioned, and I’m looking at leaving the country, whereas in secondary school I had a great fondness for Ireland. Increasingly, I don’t see myself fitting in here , and I’m torn between staying here – wanting to make a difference – and just getting out.


How would you describe your personal politics?
I’m a very proud feminist, and I have been for most of my life. I do a lot of work with women’s rights, I run the feminist society here and I’m involved in the abortion-rights movement. I made a documentary about that last year with two other people. I’m an equalist in every sense.


Do you believe young people have the power to e ffect change?
As young people, we’re in a tricky situation that seems to be almost cyclical. A lot of young people aren’t interested in politics because no one in the Government represents them, and so a lot of young people won’t vote, which means they a re not going to be represented by any party. I do believe in the power of people, though, and I wish more people did .


Has the system failed us or are we responsible for our own success?
Of course it’s the fault of the system . We have to pay thousands of euro to get a degree that might not amount to anything. I study art. I’m not expecting to get a nine-to-five job as soon as I leave here, but a lot of courses are definitely overpopulated, and the G overnment has a terrible attitude to education. Until the Government learns to respect education I really don’t see the situation getting any better for students.


Have our generation’s expectations changed?
Growing older is learning that the world isn’t going to bend over to make everything happen for you: you have to work at it yourself, and that’s definitely an attitude I see in people my age . I t’s terrifying, but it’s also exhilarating.


‘It’s up to the individual to succeed, and it always was’
Adrian Clarke is 22 and is studying p sychology at Trinity College Dublin

What is your view of society, and how do you hope it will change ?
Society is very separated now. I was waiting for a takeaway recently, and there was a palpable silence among the five or six people waiting, as everyone went straight for their phones. There was such an active interest in being away from other people. That’s not something we’ve given ourselves time to consider; it’s just happened. Before, we didn’t have that. It’s paradoxical, because, globally, we’re so close.


Has the system failed us or are we responsible for our own success?
In Irish society there’s a wide sense of entitlement to an education, and not everyone needs to be highly educated. It was marketed to us very strongly during the boom. It’s a fac ade that many people bought into, and it has died because people have woken up. It’s up to the individual to succeed, and it always was.


How would you describe your personal politics?
I’m not political. I’ll always be someone who observes, but I’ll have my own stand on it. I’m extremely liberal but a little conservative about some things, as I value decency.


Do you believe young people have the power to e ffect change?
Young people have a very strong power to e ffect change. We are considered to be more educated and more liberal than ever, so we are more empowered in ourselves. Therefore we have more power to a ffect the things around us.


Have our generation’s expectations changed?
People are far more pessimistic than they were . They fear not getting somewhere. They have really started to accept that all is not as it seems. T hey are developing an acute sense of what they want versus what the system has spat out as the ideal outcome, and they’re making the best of what they have.


‘Maybe our expectations were too high
Siné ad Mercier is 24. She studied l aw at Trinity College Dublin and is an i ntern at the Penal Reform Trust

What is your view of society, and how do you hope it will change ?
Society now is much more insecure . There was a view before that if you weren’t making it during the Celtic Tiger you were a lay about or a scumbag, but people are realising now that not everybody has these opportunities , and people are born into circumstances, such as drug or alcohol addiction, that it’s almost impossible to make your way out of . I think Ireland is changing.


How would you describe your personal politics?
An awful lot of people of our generation have an inertia when it comes to that, because of what has happened with the banking crisis and politicians failing us. I tried to join the Greens in college, and they did good work, but they were wiped out.


Do you believe young people have the power to e ffect change?
There is a huge issue with young Irish people just not bothering with Irish politics . They don’t think it concerns them .


Has the system failed us or are we responsible for our own success?
On the one hand the boom years were a blip in Ireland’s history. People feel entitled to jobs now on leaving college, but that was never the case. My grandparents never went to college, and my parents were the same. T hey had to work their way up . At the same time there’s a danger in saying it’s our own fault, because the internship culture has created more problems than it has solved.


Have our generation’s expectations changed?
A lot of people are expecting to leave or to go on to further education, whereas before now they were thinking they would get a job straight after college. Maybe our expectations were too high at the beginning and now they are just right. Society’s expectations of us are too low, however, and everyone i s expected to work for free, but that shouldn’t be the case.



‘We ha ve become an economy rather than a society’
Keith Henry is 21 and s tudied arts at NUI Galway

What is your view of society, and how do you hope it will change ?
We’re still in a bit of Celtic Tiger hangover. There’s individualism and a sense of worrying for yourself more than for the rest of society. I would like people to have more time for other people. I’d like more economic security . There’s such stress on young people to make the right decision at 16 or 17, because they don’t really have the option to change their mind. That’s very tough.


How would you describe your personal politics?
I have been a member of Fianna Fáil for five years. I’m in the centre in terms of economics, and the big issue for me lately is that of cuts to carers and elderly people. We ha ve become an economy rather than a society . People have lost sight of what it means to be part of a nation.


Do you believe young people have the power to e ffect change?
It takes a lot of energy and determination to do so. The political system is very geared towards an older generation. People reward you for experience in years. I think we can effect change. It just takes a lot more effort to get there.


Has the system failed us or are we responsible for our own success?
The system has to provide opportunities equally . That’s the ethos of a republic: opportunities are equal for all people. In a recession the opportunities are squeezed for those who can ’t afford them. The system created an environment for success, but what people do is their own responsibility.


Have our generation’s expectations changed?
The sense of excitement has dampened. The same atmosphere isn’t there. People are more focused, and maybe that’s a good thing, but the same freedom isn’t there to enjoy the whole experience.

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