Why the 18-35 year age group voted No last time


ERASMUS GENERATION:Many under 35s said No in the last referendum. Some of those who voted against the treaty then have been asked how they will vote second time around, writes MARY FITZGERALD

THEY ARE sometimes referred to as the Erasmus generation. The moniker stems from the EU university exchange programme that has, since its founding in 1987, allowed more than 1.2 million young Europeans to study in another member state.

But the expression has a broader meaning, encompassing an entire generation that has known nothing but European integration, a generation considered to be more at ease with the notion of a common European identity. In Ireland, it means those born after the State joined the EU in 1973.

But what happened to Ireland’s Erasmus generation in last year’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty? Aside from the usual issue of low turnout among voters aged under 35, that demographic returned an overwhelming No vote.

According to research commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs, 55 per cent of those aged 18-24 voted No, and 45 per cent Yes. In the 25-34 year age group, the No vote was even more pronounced: 59 per cent against, 41 per cent who voted Yes.

The fact a majority of young Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty did not go unnoticed elsewhere in Europe. President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso said it was one of the aspects of the Irish No he found most worrying. When French president Nicolas Sarkozy visited Dublin to “understand” the result, he made sure that young people were among those he met.

Andrew Byrne set up Generation Yes, a civil society campaign group that targets young voters, in response to the fact so many voted No last year.

“We know from research that this age group is not anti-European, in fact it’s the most pro-European of any age group,” he says. Byrne believes young people felt “disconnected” from last year’s Yes campaign.

“They were ignored last year. The campaign didn’t speak in their language and it didn’t use their media. If there’s a deeper issue at work here, it is perhaps a disconnect between the major political parties and younger people.

“I think there is a sense that our age group is perhaps more independent-minded than previous generations, and more willing to question authority.

“That’s a big difference in mindset, and may have perhaps fed into the whole anti-Government sentiment.”

Byrne says he and fellow Generation Yes canvassers have detected a trend towards a Yes vote.

An I rish Times/TNS mrbi poll published earlier this month, however, found that those in the 18-24 age group are the most negative towards the treaty, and the only age group in which the No campaign is in the lead.

BreandÁn Macgabhann (27)

Breandán MacGabhann (27) is completing a PhD in geology at NUI Galway. He voted No last year and intends to vote No again.

"I have read the entire treaty and the consolidated version, and I think it takes the EU in the wrong direction. There are a lot of problems with the EU - particularly in terms of the lack of democracy - that I think the treaty actually makes worse. I am worried about implications for taxation. Overall, I think the guarantees don't even come close to changing the treaty enough for me to change my mind.

"It's not addressing the fundamental democratic deficit in the EU, and they seem to be ignoring democracy when the result doesn't suit."

Padraic Doorey (34)

Padraic Doorey (34), from Castledermot, Co Kildare, has just finished a Masters in law. He voted No last year and intends to vote No again next month.

"I read the treaty and I also studied the EU constitution as part of my degree. I believe this is a step towards federalism. If Lisbon is passed, it allows for the EU to later make decisions which will affect smaller countries like Ireland that will have a reduced voice. We shouldn't be voting again. I feel it is very undemocratic. The content of the treaty itself has not changed and I don't believe the legal guarantees will stand up . . .

"This idea we have to pass the treaty to get out of this economic mess is not something I believe at all."

Treasa O'brien (31)

Treasa O'Brien (31) from Killarney, Co Kerry, is a film-maker. She voted No last year and intends to vote No again.

"I feel like a European and I want to stay with Europe, but I think the EU, which was originally an economic model, is becoming too much of a political and then ultimately a militarised model. It's a step too far.

"There are no facts to back up the Government's argument that this will be better for the recession. Some people voted No because of a sense of nationalism or because they are afraid abortion is going to come in, and that's definitely not where I'm coming from at all.

"My argument is Yes to Europe, No to Lisbon."

Ciara Coy (26)

Ciara Coy (26), from Loughrea, Co Galway, is studying for a Masters in community development. She voted No last year and intends to vote No again next month.

"I am not against Europe at all but I have reservations about the direction it's going in. A lot of my friends were undecided last year. They didn't vote, or they didn't know what way to vote - that confusion is still there.

"I think this is about the United States of Europe, and that raises alarm bells for me. The guarantees are worthless. Nothing has changed in the treaty. We are told to vote Yes but never given reasons why that actually reference the treaty. It's like offering a lollipop to a child without warning them that it will rot their teeth."

 Adam Douglas (19)

Adam Douglas (19), from Fermoy, Co Cork, is studying international relations at DCU. He ran for the Green Party in local elections. He voted No last year and intends to vote Yes this year.

"The big issue for me last year was to do with the commissioner, and the fact I thought more countries should have the opportunity to vote on the treaty.

"I decided recently to vote Yes this time. A lot of the arguments on the No side lost credibility for me after hearing them the second time. The commissioner question has been addressed and there is also the realisation we are in a very different economic situation. The best thing at the moment would be to get the treaty sorted so we can concentrate on the bigger issues."

Andrew Hanrahan (32)

Andrew Hanrahan (32) is a primary school principal in Monageer, Co Wexford. He voted No last year and intends to vote Yes next month.

"Like most people I know who voted No last year, my vote didn't really have anything to do with the treaty itself. It was mostly to show dissatisfaction with the Government. And while I am still very dissatisfied with the Government, I don't think the country can afford to waste any more time debating Lisbon when we have more important things to sort out at the moment.

"I was struck by the fact last year we were cheered by British Eurosceptics when we voted No. I don't see how we could be siding with a crowd like that."

 Andrew O'Brien (30)

Andrew O'Brien (30), from Co Cork, works as a physics research scientist at NUI Galway. He voted No last year and is leaning towards No again.

"I didn't see any point in voting Yes last year. I wasn't convinced enough. I fell into the 'If you don't know, vote No' category, and most people I know also voted No for this reason. I am about 90 per cent sure I will vote No again because they have ignored the fact we voted No last time. I am not convinced by the legal guarantees and I can't see how the Lisbon Treaty itself can improve the economic situation.

"I am not against the EU . . . I feel offended when people say voting No is a vote against Europe."

Brian Hayden (28)

Brian Hayden (28), from Duleek, Co Meath, is completing a PhD in fish biology at UCD. He voted No last year, but plans to vote Yes.

"It was very difficult to make a decision last year due to all the disinformation and scaremongering. I thought a No vote would lead to some sort of renegotiation and a better deal for Ireland, especially on the commissioner issue.

"Because the economic situation in Ireland has changed, I think we need to ally ourselves as closely as possible with Europe. Some people might want to punish the Government by voting No, but I think we should take the treaty on its merits, and wonder what we are going to do with the Government when the next general election comes around."