Do the views of young people on equality differ from those of their parents?

Under-18s have a reputation for tolerance but they’re far from perfect, say four young people

What do young people make of Ireland? How do their views on equality differ from those of their parents? Do they see this country as a welcoming place for women and minorities?

A survey released by Youth Work Ireland – in time for their #Equality17 conference on Saturday, October 21st – interviewed a representative sample of more than 1,000 young people from the 116,000 they work with.

Most of us like to think we're very open-minded, and even white supremacists or opponents of gay marriage usually deny that they're racist, homophobic or intolerant, so the survey took a different tack: instead of only asking people for their own views on minorities and equality it also asked them to assess how tolerant other young people are.

This is similar to a political polling question which asks people to predict who they think will be elected rather than who they will vote for themselves. The answer tends to be closer to the actual election outcome.


When it comes to minority groups, young people’s tolerance levels differ, with 95 per cent saying that their peers are accepting of gay and bisexual people and that 89 per cent are accepting of transgender people. Another 89 per cent say young people are accepting of people of colour.

For all this, only 66 per cent say that they are more accepting and tolerant of Muslims, while 74 per cent say that their generation is tolerant of disabled people. The lowest tolerance figure – 58 per cent – was for the Traveller and Roma community.

This follows a recent survey which found that just 9 per cent of people would accept a member of the Travelling community into their family.

Overall, three in four young people say that they are more accepting of immigrants than their parents, while 91 per cent say that they are less influenced by the Catholic church than previous generations.

The interviewees

We spoke to four of the people involved with Youth Work Ireland, and asked about their views on diversity in Ireland today.

Deborah Fakeye (16) doesn’t remember being born into direct provision. Her parents are originally from Nigeria, but she has only ever lived in Ireland. She is the middle of three children and lives in Moate, Co Westmeath. She is currently in fifth year.

Daniel Airey (20), is a second-year student of creative digital media at IT Tallaght. He has had cerebral palsy since birth. Dan describes himself as “a sports nut” but he had to give up wheelchair tennis following a hip replacement three years ago. He lives with his parents and sister in Dundrum, Co. Dublin.

Aloisa Dias is 14. Five years ago her family moved from Goa in India to Leitrim. She is a practising Catholic, but she rejects many aspects of the church’s teaching, including on abortion and LGBT rights. She has two younger siblings.

Finn O’Farrell (18) is a student of liberal arts at Monaghan Institute. He was assigned female at birth and now identifies as male. He started coming out as a transman at the beginning of fifth year, and to date his experiences have been largely positive. He has one little brother and two older half-siblings. For some of his extended family this article will the first time they learn of his gender identity.

On identity


Back home we were poor and everyone emigrated. My dad had already worked here for 10 years so the idea of Ireland wasn’t completely alien to me, although when I stepped off the plane from India I was instantly freezing. And for all I’d heard about Ireland, I was the only brown face in the class and didn’t know how to act.


When I was young I looked at my friends playing football and thought: why me? But I’ve grown up in this wheelchair and it doesn’t mean I can’t do things. When I was first born the doctors told my parents that I wouldn’t be able to walk, talk or write. They didn’t believe them, and they passed on that defiance to me. I’ve been defying and proving people wrong throughout my life. My identity? Sports nut. I may not be able to play but I love watching them. I love music and I love being young.


I’m a young black Irish woman with Nigerian heritage, but Ireland is my home. I’ve only been to Nigeria once for 10 days.


I always had male and female friends, but always got on better with boys. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed do “boy” things and I’d roar that I didn’t want to be a girl. When I was about 14, I heard the label “trans” and I knew that, actually, I wasn’t one.

On being different


People expect that I am Muslim or Hindu and can be surprised to learn I’m a Mass-going Catholic. In some ways my religion has helped me to fit in better in Ireland. I used to try and hide that I was Indian, and I’d ask my mum not to make me Indian food for my school lunches because people teased me about the smell. There isn’t much of an Indian community around Leitrim, but there are more than 18 different nationalities in my secondary school. Now I have good friends and don’t feel isolated.


The survey said that only 74 per cent of young people are accepting and tolerant of people with disabilities. This is disappointing. People with physical or intellectual disabilities, autistic spectrum disorders, Down syndrome or any other disability just need extra time to be understood and accommodated, or they may just communicate a little differently.

I’ve rarely been overtly teased, but disabled people are left behind in conversations, and Ireland still hasn’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I’m fed up being spoken for, being spoken down to. I’m sick of people taking up wheelchair parking spaces. I’m tired of being unable to get in and out of buildings and of being stranded: a few weeks ago I couldn’t get home after a night out with my friends because there were no wheelchair accessible taxis available, so my uncle had to come for me. Our lives are restricted. We want to be included.


I recently fell and had to go to A&E. There was an older man there, he was maybe 50 or 60. In the middle of telling a story he shouted out the N-word with force and aggression. I wasn’t the only black person in the room.

He got a few shocked looks, but nobody stood up to him. Was I meant to? I’m a 16-year-old girl with a broken toe faced with an intimidating man. I felt genuinely scared: you don’t know what a person like that will do.

The person he was talking to walked away and he started to talk to me. Where are you from? Moate, I told him. No, where are you really from? he asked me, a young girl with a clear Irish accent.

He’s not the first I’ve encountered: there’s a boy in the school who whispers in my ear about the KKK and how white people are the real victims of oppression. I don’t let them get under my skin.


I came out as a trans man in a girl’s school. My principal gave me the names of local support groups that I had already been to, and luckily the uniform already offered a choice between trousers and skirts. My brother and my dad were okay with my gender identity. I mostly interact with people my age or youth workers, and they don’t tend to be conservative. I haven’t really faced any hostility or outright attacks – not yet anyway.

On tolerance


I see plenty of racism or discrimination on social media. Assumptions that refugees are scroungers. People of colour afraid of being abused on the streets. Travellers branded as criminals no matter how much they achieve or struggle to overcome difficulty.

Some people fear change even when it’s positive. It’s too late to change minds when people are teenagers or adults. We need to teach kids that there’s nothing to fear from equality.


There’s a superficial acceptance of difference on the surface. Ask someone how they feel about Muslims, for instance, and you’ll get the response: they’re the same as anyone else. Then there’s a joke about hijabs or terrorists, and they laugh along. Or they say they’re against racism, but how many are willing to put their heads above the parapet when a 16-year-old black girl is confronted by a man shouting the N-word?

I do think young people are generally more tolerant than older generations, but they’re not perfect. In my school people say they’re fine with LGBT kids; then they gang up on the only openly gay person in the school. It’s considered acceptable to mock or dislike Travellers.

George Hook says that women are to blame for being raped and he retains his powerful platform on Newstalk, while [Dil Wickremasinghe] a woman of colour who criticised him does not.

Ireland might be going in the right direction and we are seen as a progressive country with a gay, half-Indian Taoiseach, throwing off the shackles of our past, but we’re not there yet. The fight to end direct provision – which mainly affects poor and brown people – doesn’t get as much attention in the media as, say, LGBT issues. The marches to repeal the Eighth Amendment are downplayed, and women are still fighting for the right to bodily autonomy.

There’s a perception that the internet is to blame for bullying and hate. Social media didn’t create the hate that is already in people’s hearts although the platforms do have a responsibility to stamp out hate, whether from Nazis or Islamic terror groups.

I get the odd person on Twitter telling me I’m not Irish. And I know boys in real life, people who have been our friends since first year, who spend their time on Reddit and Twitter railing against women and people of colour. They don’t feel as much need to spit at us in the hallway because they can just go on to social media and say vile things instead.