Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

‘Young people shouldn’t be victims, but reformers’

Recruitment embargoes in the public service are preventing us from playing a role in the country’s future, writes Roisin Costello

Wed, Jul 24, 2013, 19:00


Roisin Costello

A piece written by a fellow trinity student just as I and the rest of the class of 2013 graduated in May noted that, as part of a generation who had been raised in a boom to think the stars were ours if we would only reach out and take them, our greatest legacy would be frustrated ambition.

Certainly Ireland and Europe’s youth faces a challenge to the sense of entitlement to success that it might have harbored. But with little left to lose and an unprecedented level of education, thanks to nominally free third level education and programs like Erasmus, this generation is one of the most highly educated and proving itself among the most entrepreneurial in decades.

And yet we could also prove to be the most disenfranchised generation for some time as well. Public sector recruitment embargoes mean that this generation will be largely unrepresented in the civil and public service, unable to contribute to the policy formation and services which underpin any strong and inclusive system of government. For any who managed to enter before the hiring freeze, the reality of working harder to compensate for inadequate staffing, in tandem with pay freezes and no prospect of promotion means they have little incentive to remain in a position which is increasingly demanding while simultaneously demonised in the popular media for being replete with overpaid and underworked staff.

The economic crisis has of course necessitated government cuts on public spending, but that does not mean they should be accepted unquestioningly. Government responses to youth unemployment are focused largely on projects such as the National Internship Scheme (JobsBridge) and JobsPlus that aim to support the creation private sector jobs. In this respect we might do well to learn from our neighbours. The French government’s “pact for youth employment” creates state-subsidised jobs but largely in local and regional government, thus avoiding the dearth of experience in upcoming generations.

While no subsidised scheme is ideal, there is a significant argument for funding a generation of highly educated young graduates to enter public and civil service positions rather than private industry, as they ensure that when hiring freezes are ended there is no absence of an upcoming generation to take-over. As it is, prolonged embargoes will ensure that when hiring returns to normal, we are burdened by a public sector characterised by extremes, with an old guard replete with experience about to leave or already gone and a new wave taking over, having never been adequately trained or mentored through the system and thus lacking the practical as well as professional experience to accompany their education.

Resolution 1885 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2012 bore the apocryphal title “The young generation sacrificed”. While such slogans may seem melodramatic, the current lockout this generation is experiencing from public service at a national level is as potentially damaging as it is counter-intuitive. Intermittent claims that Ireland’s young emigrants are abandoning their country fail to address the true problem. For those who want to effect change through public service, there is no job to take, no means of entry to fulfill such ambitions.

Ireland’s most educated generation to date should not be a problem the government is trying desperately to fix. We should be the solution. We shouldn’t be the victims but the reformers. In the long run it is this generation who will be picking up the pieces of the crisis, paying off the balance of the loans from paychecks, rebuilding the Ireland we grew up in on a sustainable model. If we’re going to do that we need a place at the table. If you expect us to do that, we deserve a place at the table.

Roisin Costello graduated with a degree in law from Trinity College this year. She is currently living in Paris where she is studying for a dual Masters in international affairs and law at SciencesPo and Georgetown.