Theo Dorgan's speech to graduating UCC students urged them to create a new Ireland. We invited politics students in Trinity College Dublin to respond
DANIEL FARRELL:Like most of my class, I am planning to move away after graduation, but with the genuine intention of coming back to make my contribution to rebuilding Ireland.
We have the skills needed to make Ireland better and I hope that we have the passion to use them.
I hope that Irish people do not despair at the situation. Yes, this is a low point in Irish history, but it is also an opportunity to acknowledge our mistakes and move on, remembering that we have not lost everything.
I hope that in the future we can change our attitude towards democracy and take better ownership of our country. Our political system is not broken, but the way we use it is.
We must not only speak of the rights granted to us by Bunreacht na hÉireann, but also of our responsibilities as citizens. We are responsible for the politicians we elect and we are responsible for holding them to account in office. We cannot expect things to change while continuing to accept the things we have up to now. I hope for an Ireland which can regain some of what it has lost, but also one which does not completely turn its back on the past 20 years.
First, we must not forget everything that makes this country so special. We must not forget the sense of community and the genuine warmth and friendliness of the Irish people. We must not forget our rich culture – language, music, sport, literature – that every one of us should be proud of.
Equally, however, we must remember everything we have learned over the Celtic Tiger years. The boom was not just about property bubbles and bankers’ bonuses. We also opened ourselves to the world, learned to be more tolerant and learned to question the things we were told to believe. If we can learn from our mistakes, we can make Ireland a better place. Ireland does have a future, but we must recognise that it is up to us to make it what we want it to be.
Every new year I pledge to improve and every new year these pledges disappear.
However, this year I am putting hope above experience. I am not questioning as to whether I will have the strength to adhere to my resolutions, as I know I have no choice.
My generation will not allow 2011 to be remembered as the year that Ireland became a defeated nation. We will ensure that it is forever remembered as the year that inspired people to fight for renewal of the Irish State.
Our crisis was caused partly because we invested our hopes into something that was destined to disappoint – the idea that democracy could exist unchecked. The need for a return of power to the people seems so blindingly obvious now. We have learned that a political culture defined by norms of passive citizenship is unsatisfactory.
I am part of a generation that prides itself on the sense of responsibility it feels for others in society. Take a stroll down O’Connell Street in Dublin some Saturday afternoon and you are sure to meet students raising their voices against some injustice. My generation did not grow up in an age of doctrinal absolutism; we are an inquisitive and outward-looking people.
Democracy is worth fighting for. Like our predecessors, we are forced to emigrate to succeed. But we will not forget the responsibility we have to return and use the experiences we have acquired to make Ireland a better place.
This new kind of Ireland? How are we to build it? Free from the church, free from Britain, free from the Troubles, we had almost run out of excuses until the bankers came along, those faceless, feckless fools who we delight in hurling the blame at. As if we had nothing to with it. At least my generation didn’t.
We didn’t vote in three terms of Fianna Fáil, we were too young to speak out at the malignancy that was growing in Ireland, we placed our trust in our elders, thinking them our betters. And now that trust is forfeit.
My generation and the next few will pay for the excesses of a generation who just couldn’t say no, or speak up when it was right. The generation that valued potholes over patriotism, of TDs chasing hearses over chasing criminals, of mortgaging our future along with their houses.
Theo Dorgan says we must build a new Ireland – on what foundation? What is left to build upon? What good is the youth of Ireland, left grumbling in a dole queue? We will leave. And punish a generation that should have known better. The difference between our generation and the previous emigrés, however, is rooted in anger, and perhaps this is the one last hope that Ireland has for itself. The hope is that we will return and find an Ireland that is ready for the changes to be wrought.
Our goal is to begin anew, to build an Ireland of solidarity over selfishness. This change will not happen overnight, and will only really occur when the citizens of Ireland grow up and realise their culpability in this crisis. But that time is not now. Ireland is to be punished, but the hope is that the punishment will be short.
The people of Ireland are undoubtedly experiencing the five stages of grief. We have observed the denial of the Government as the country sank into economic stagnation. Now we witness the anger as people realise the effect the bank bailouts will have on our society and in particular their effect on those already on the fringes.
Bargaining, depression and acceptance will come next as the citizens mourn the loss of their Celtic Tiger. As Theo Dorgan points out, it will be the youth who are left to shoulder the burden of rebuilding a crippled nation.
Nonetheless, we are ready for this challenge. We have seen the excess and learned from it first-hand what greed can accomplish. Our children may have to share the debt, but we will ensure that through education and tacit knowledge, they will have a different moral backbone than the one this Government possesses.
It is easy for people to become disillusioned and disheartened. We, as the future generation, must ensure this fog of fear is lifted. People need to be re-engaged in the deliberation and decision-making process in this country. Dorgan stresses the importance of education, yet it was one of the first things the Government was willing to place out of reach for those of limited means by raising tuition fees. However, education does not have to come purely in the form of monetary means, as was seen with the recent Claiming Our Future conference in the RDS.
I have absolute faith that the lessons learnt will embolden the sense of community spirit already present in the youth of today and together we can restore confidence and pride in our nation.
PHOEBE LAURA MUCKIAN
Reading Theo Dorgan’s eloquent and emotive speech really struck a chord with me. His message of hope is an antidote to the pervasive doom and foreboding that has settled on this country. Our heads are bowed, but we are not defeated.
We may have reached a dark chapter in our history, but we must not lose perspective. We have not suffered our darkest hour. What about the Famine, what about the Civil War? What about the Troubles, where 3,000 people died for an ideology?
We have not come to the end of the road, we have simply hit a bump (albeit a very large one). To any future governments, I would urge them to invest in the youth. It is my generation and the next generation that are saddled with this enormous debt. We will be the ones who must set us on a path to progress. There is a wealth of talent and knowledge in this country. There are plenty of budding entrepreneurs. This spirit needs to be fostered and nurtured, not crushed. Inevitably during recession people emigrate. Many of these people return with skills and ideas learned abroad that can benefit us all.
We have been quick to blame anyone but ourselves. We must stop being passive and take responsibility. We must ensure we hold our politicians to account; we need effective forums for our citizens to participate in the political process. We as citizens must demand more – of ourselves and our elected leaders.
If there was one message I would like anyone reading this to take it is this: we have been given an opportunity to learn from our past mistakes, don’t waste it.
The next generation should take the anger and disappointment and start demanding more from our government. The next generation of Irish men and women will hopefully mark a dramatic shift in attitudes; no longer embracing apathy and ignorance towards government and politicians. No longer will negligence, dishonesty and mismanagement be tolerated or accepted. There will be outrage and there should be outrage. When did people decide that politicians were not to be held to high standards? When did we stop expecting them to lead by example? When did we stop caring?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know that the next generation of Irish men and women better change it.
My hope for the future is that we stop settling for mediocrity, passivity and ignorance. I hope the next generation will be able to ask the right questions, raise the right issues and make informed and enlightened choices, so that our politicians will be held accountable and responsible.
I believe that a drastic change of attitudes and expectations is necessary, and that the next generation will actively engage in the governance of our country.
We should do better and we deserve better!
Psychologically, Ireland is like a defeated country. Determination and a fighting spirit are traits we once had as a nation, but appear to have long forgotten.
But these strengths will once again help us to rebuild Ireland. Yes, it is hard to listen to reports of how bad the situation is and how difficult it will be to stay here. But those of us graduating this year and intending to stay must be ready to fight back.
Nothing but pure determination kept us in college during the past two years as we were repeatedly reminded of the possible pitfalls of unemployment and depleting opportunities we could face when we graduated.
But I refuse to have my future decided by the ineptitude of others. Our generation is devoid of expectations. Our expectations have been replaced by the inevitability of having to repay the loans and suffer the losses. A reality we accept that, in order to stay, we simply must do.
A new Ireland is emerging from the wreckage, one that is united across classes, borders and religions. What evolves will make us stronger as a nation. We have been let down by the so-called democratic process, but we are finding pieces of it worth preserving in the rubble. Those of us willing to stay will put these pieces together and rebuild a future for ourselves and those who will follow. Once rebuilt we will witness a better Ireland emerge, an Ireland with greater participation from the foot soldiers because we have learned how dangerous it is to be led into battle by generals who do not uphold the values of democracy. We will deploy new tactics such as deliberative democracy to determine our response to the problems left by the old Ireland.
It is important to look around us now and realise we have a great country. The new Ireland will be built on real pride and achievements, and not false promises. Our greatest opportunity is the challenge we are faced with now, and that challenge is in determining our future for ourselves.
All the final-year students above are studying comparative political reform with adjunct lecturer in politics Elaine Byrne who assisted in the production of their responses. Theo Dorgan’s article, which was published in The Irish Times on Thursday, may be read online at