The young voter engaged, but will they stay with politics?

Same-sex marriage campaign is cool; workaday politics not so much

A beautifully shot video from Christmas 2012, of a 20-something Dubliner wandering the streets of the city and debating whether to stay in Ireland, offered a timeless snatch of a generation losing hope.

Among the more memorable lines: “I can’t afford the banter anymore. Sydney and London swallow up your mates. Any craic? No, yous- all f***ed off.”

Dave Tynan’s short film ended with his character looking out at Dublin Bay from the deck of a ferry as he left the country.

On Friday, another video on Youtube of Irish emigrants looking at the same view as their ferry pulled in garnered thousands of views. They sang She Moved Through the Fair, their contribution to the #hometovote trend on social media, as they pulled into Dublin. These were the young people who left Ireland, and the crisis which left many of their generation disengaged from politics, yet same-sex marriage offered them a cause they could believe in.


The tales of the returning emigrants offered one of the first indications something was stirring among the young.

Encouraged by campaign groups like Yes Equality, they spoke to their families and friends and made the arguments for Yes. They ensured turnout was high.

Tiernan Brady from Yes Equality said young voters realised that they, rather than politicians, were the campaign for same-sex marriage.

The message was: “Don’t presume other people will speak to your family and your friends. You have to do it. The mood for people not only to have their voices heard but to persuade others – that was the real transformation.”

feel-good factor

Same-sex marriage offered a societal change younger voters could claim as their own and an opportunity to shape their Ireland, a sentiment which surfaced repeatedly during the campaign. It offered them – and many in the wider population – a reason to feel good about themselves and the country.

One romantic theory floated in the midst of the euphoria at Dublin Castle on Saturday was the referendum as a coda to the crisis years and a spur to a more positive era, as Italia ’90 closed the door on the 1980s and heralded the arrival of the 1990s.

The young could easily identify with the cause. While the public testimony of those of middle age and above was a powerful element of the campaign, the majority of those in their teens and 20s know someone in their family or social circle who is gay, many of whom shared their own stories on social media.

Yes campaigners at home sensed something special was happening when they undertook their first voter registration drive last October and November, which led to an extra 40,000 voters coming on to the register for 2015.

“I think the real moment was when we heard from UCC that 3,780 were registered on that first drive,” says Brady. “And it wasn’t that they just registered, they wanted to drive it on. People went off and designed logos and set up groups on social media. It was quite organic.”

Ring your Granny

He mentions the “Ring Your Granny” video from

Trinity College

students, asking people to ring their grandparents and convince them to vote Yes.

A further 66,000 went on the supplementary register before the deadline on May 5th, with campaigners drumming home the deadline to add a sense of urgency.

A remarkable fact about Friday was the number who followed through on that intention to vote, with many polling stations reporting turnouts above 90 per cent of those on the supplementary register. In Huntstown, west Dublin, it was 99 per cent.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) says the referendum turnout “must put an end now to the notion that young people are apathetic”.

"Young people care about political issues and they care about equality. The Government should now ensure that they engage with young people when it comes to political decisions," says USI president Laura Harmon.

But do the young care as much about who their local TD is, or mundane referendums on issues such as the fiscal treaty?

Supporting a Yes for same-sex marriage was cool; workaday politics is certainly not. Yet, as one senior Fine Gael figure put it over the weekend, the political parties wold be foolish to ignore all Friday's younger voters. Enda Kenny even made a direct plea to them to stay engaged.

“Between those who came on the supplementary register and the people who came on the register last year, you might be looking at 125,000,” the source said. “Whatever party contacts them will benefit.