This is the second of two articles based on a recent Irish Times focus group of Irish twentysomethings. Click here to read part 1, where the "fed-up" generation discuss sex and body image, optimism and austerity, Instagram and the 'liberal echo chamber', and here for an ex-twentysomething's view of this generation.
They are the generation that may never own a home. They are the young people who live out of boxes, moving from one apartment to another and back home to their parents as their lives are dictated by the latest price hike in the rental market. Rents go up, the economy supposedly recovers, yet their salaries and job security do not follow suit.
Before Christmas I was joined by five young women and men for a group discussion on what it means to be in your 20s in Ireland today. The focus group was chaired by me, 29-year-old journalist Sorcha Pollak, and cofacilitated by Gerard O'Neill of Amárach Consulting, who has extensively researched this age group.
From sex to wellness, echo chambers to dating and marriage, the discussion covered all aspects of the life of a twentysomething trying to find their way through the early years of adulthood. Inevitably, the conversation also touched on frustration at the lack of affordable rental options for students and young people.
Tess Brady (27), who works for a mental health charity called MyMind in Dublin, says rental prices have placed an “enormous amount of stress on young people” and stifled their ability to pursue lower paying and less stable avenues of work.
Brady was living out of home until June of this year when her landlord decided to sell the house she was renting. She has moved back in with her parents and hopes to find a place that is affordable early this year.
“I feel like it’s a big step backwards moving into my parents’ home,” says Brady. “Although I’m perfectly happy living with them, I feel I should be able to afford to live on my own after three years of working full-time.”
Brady wants to buy a home in her 30s and has been saving since she started working, but says the combination of a low salary and rules around mortgage eligibility means home ownership is becoming an increasingly unattainable goal.
Each time he signs into Facebook, Shane Byrne (28) is faced with yet another post from a friend searching for an affordable place to live.
“A lot of people my age have actually reached the point of despair at one stage or another. No matter what your financial situation, even those who are working in stable pensionable jobs have been driven to the point of tears. The struggle of trying to find somewhere in the Dublin area is immense and intense.”
Byrne describes the search for a home as “demoralising”.
“Everyone has been denied the normal things we should expect and are entitled to: our parents, denied the time to be together and live this part of their lives privately and comfortably; and my generation, denied independence and the early years of our adulthood.
“I would like to see a time when tenants in rental accommodation can feel more comfortable and live without the anxiety of being priced out of your home or forced to move when a landlord decides to sell.”
Ciara Walsh (26) rented five different houses/apartments since moving to Dublin from Limerick four years ago. She found her current home through a friend and feels fortunate she has been able to avoid using Daft.ie in the search for affordable housing.
“I have paid astronomical prices for a tiny box room, and once I was paying a crazy price for a child’s bed from Ikea. My legs stuck out the end and I’m not even tall.
“Most of my money goes on rent, it’s so disheartening. If professionals are finding it hard to make rent, then I shudder to think how people that work in the arts pay rent. They are pushing out the people that make our city so colourful.”
Walsh finds it’s difficult to believe political claims of economic recovery when she goes home to Limerick.
“Everything outside Dublin just feels underfunded, underdeveloped and forgotten.”
She feels a sense of loyalty to her home city and hates how Limerick is “misrepresented” by the media.
“It’s just gangland and drug issues but that’s not all we have to offer. There’s a massive community spirit and sense of pride. With very little resources they’ve created so many events.”
However, the “mass exodus” of school and college graduates to Dublin and abroad has left a notable gap in the city and surrounding areas, she says.
TJ Butler (23) says this strong sense of community, which he remembers as a child growing up in Lucan village, is no longer a feature of living in the west Dublin suburb.
“My parents have lived in the same house for 30 years but they don’t know most of the neighbours any more because everyone has become a commuter. People live there to go to work, it’s not their home.”
Byrne has become increasingly aware of how parts of the country, including pockets of Dublin, never felt the impact of the boom times.
“It’ s uncomfortable when you look at the docklands and see the level of development there which was so lauded. But it’s all in the name of finance and seems so crude when you compare it to areas like Moyross in Limerick or St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore. ”
Butler agrees that the economy’s “magical recovery” has only touched the lives of those in the cities, while many living in rural areas and smaller towns continue to struggle.
“There’s a huge distinction between Dublin and the rest of the country in terms of the recovery. The only place that’s really felt is the major cities and even then it’s only in Dublin.”
The group noted a divide between drug use among young people in the capital compared with the rest of the country. Ali Ayden (22), originally from Turkey but who grew up in Carlow, says he never saw drugs before he moved to Dublin.
“Dublin was this very colourful, shiny and bright place where everyone’s doing something different. In Dublin you see drugs first-hand whereas in Carlow there’s more likely to be a drink and people are more chilled.”
Walsh also became more aware of drugs when she arrived in Dublin.
“I went to college in Limerick and it was very much a drink culture. My friends are quite sporty and obviously Limerick rugby is huge so it wasn’t dominated by drugs. Coming to Dublin and also being in my later 20s, drugs have become more readily available.”
Butler says increasing numbers of students in their early 20s are also opting for taking a pill when going on a night out.
“Instead of spending €30, €40 or €50 on drink they can just take a pill for a fiver. It’s very casual, no one bats on eyelid.”
Byrne has noticed the recent growth in popularity of cocaine and says it often feels as if we’ve been transported back to 2006 when “the city was white, it was awash”.
“I remember when I first started going out and there was this pub in Churchtown and people were snorting cocaine off tables in the smoking area. That’s back in now. But the ethical implications of how cocaine gets into those bags doesn’t matter to people. There’s blood in those bags but people want to have a good time regardless.”
Brady often feels uncomfortable with the State’s attitude towards young people’s drug use versus the perception of heroin addicts on the streets of the capital.
“Radio and newspapers love doing features on drug addicts but then we feel fine ignoring the party drug culture. We think of them as different types of drug use, and I think the courts treat them that way too. Why is one bad and the other good?”
All five participants agree that alcohol continues to play a fundamental role in Irish socialising, with Brady adding that our reliance on drink is embedded in Irish culture.
“Look at our literary history, our cultural history, the idea of who we are as people. I can’t imagine Ireland without alcohol to be honest.”
Walsh admits that alcohol has always featured heavily in her social circle.
“I actually can’t imagine how our friendship would last without alcohol. I know that sounds really bad we haven’t got to that stage yet where it doesn’t feature in our lives.”
Asked if the “millennial” stereotype – a term all in the group dislike – is correct in labelling people in their 20s as politically apathetic, Shane Byrne argues that young people are simply suffering from an information overload.
“I’m always cautious of calling our generation apathetic. We’re exposed to a lot more, we know about a lot more issues than 25 years ago simply because we have the mass information superhighway. We’re also human and there’s only a certain capacity we have to process this information.
“I remember Councillor Gary Gannon from the north inner city saying that we’re not apathetic, it’s just that we don’t like the politicians in power. We’re not connected to what they’re doing and saying.”
Following the results of the 2016 general election, TJ Butler decided to turn this disillusionment with the Irish political system into action, by joining Labour Youth. To his dismay, he discovered he was one of only a tiny number of students involved with the centre-left party.
“People our age are constantly giving out about what’s right and wrong with this country and how we think it should change. But very few people actually get involved with the system.
“I originally would have joined the Social Democrats but that party hasn’t really come to anything so I joined Labour Youth. We’re constantly giving out that this old man’s club is setting the rules but none of us actually try to get in.”
People in their 20s must overcome this fear of turning into one of “those old men in suits” in order to bring positive change into Irish society, says Butler. “Even if the system is flawed, the only way to really change it is from within.”