Broken promises leave young shy of politics, MacGill hears

Newly elected councillors address summer school on issue of political apathy

Newly elected independent councillor Gary Gannon. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Newly elected independent councillor Gary Gannon. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times


Broken promises such as the Government’s pre-general election pledge not to increase student charges have left young people shy about placing their faith in politics again, the MacGill summer school has heard.

Dún Laoghaire Fianna Fáil councillor Kate Feeney said there had been a well co-ordinated campaign by the Union of Students in Ireland on the issue of student fees before the 2011 election.

“On the back of this campaign, Ruairi Quinn signed his now infamous pledge outside the gates of Trinity College that he would not increase student fees, including the student contribution charge. And we all know what happened there,” she said.

“Having wooed the students during the campaign, the Student Contribution Charge has risen three times since 2011 and is set to go up again to €3,000 by 2015.”

Speaking on the fifth day of the event in Glenties, Co Donegal, Ms Feeney said that for many of the young people affected by this issue, the general election in 2011 was “their first trip to a ballot box”.

“Broken promises like these leave people twice shy about placing their faith in politics again. Who could blame them for being cynical when over the years all parties - including my own - have been guilty of this kind of conduct. “

Ms Feeney said we needed to understand that we were dealing with a new electorate and it simply didn’t make sense to sell them “old politics”.

On the question of who could solve the problem of political apathy, Ms Feeney said it would be “absurd” if she didn’t believe that political parties had some role to play in providing the solution.

“However, in reflecting honestly on the local election campaign, it would not be an exaggeration to say that being a member of a political party - any party – was a negative in the eyes of many voters.”

She said the single most common remark she heard on the doorsteps was questioning why she didn’t run as an independent.

Ms Feeney said we had to radically change the way politics operated in this country, and treat young people with respect and not patronise them.

Gary Gannon, newly elected independent councillor for Dublin’s north inner city, said he was “absolutely convinced that we, as a generation, are not ethically, socially or civically apathetic”.

“But we have a political culture in this country that is morally bankrupt and we are uncomfortable in propping up a system that is unsuited to the purpose intended.”

Mr Gannon said this was a generation “who rarely patent our ideas”.

“We write, we blog and we share information on a scale that has never been experienced in human history.”

Young people also volunteered on a massive scale, he said.

“If I was to randomly select a two page CV from anybody in this room, below the age of 30, I guarantee you it would be half filled with work they did on a voluntary basis.”

Social entrepreneur Daithí de Buitléir, founder of Raising and Giving Ireland, said the country seemed to be “an aimless project with no fundamental purpose”.

“Our political parties squabble amongst themselves with little focus other than ensuring self-survival. Our traditional political heavyweights have no guiding ideology or vision of what Ireland can become - other than embarrassing little soundbites such as ‘the best small country in the world in which to do business’.”

Mr De Buitléir said the lack of political ideology which dominated our political discourse meant that parties run “an iron-tight party whip”.

“How else can you control a group of random people who end up together united by very little, except for a dislike and distrust of everyone who isn’t one of them?”