Elaine Loughlin: Young Fine Gael is male, stale and increasingly right-wing

Fine Gael has always been a conservative house, but an increasing chunk of its youth organisation is spiralling towards more right-wing, anti-abortion and anti-immigrant standpoints
Elaine Loughlin: Young Fine Gael is male, stale and increasingly right-wing

Elaine Loughlin: Young Fine Gael (YFG) has become a place to retreat to if you harbour strong, conservative right-wing views.

Fine Gael has always been a conservative house, but an increasing chunk of its youth organisation is moving towards more right-wing, anti-abortion and anti-immigrant standpoints.

Young liberal hipsters are now drawn to Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats, those with a social and environmental conscience have joined the Greens. 

Meanwhile, Young Fine Gael (YFG) has become a place to retreat to if you harbour strong, conservative right views.

YFG was established by Garret FitzGerald in 1977 as a way of modernising the party by bringing in a younger generation.

Garret would be horrified with what YFG has become," one more liberal member said.

Over the weekend, YFG members elected a new executive council. Of the 10 members, just three are women.

Young Fine Gael was established by Garret FitzGerald in 1977 as a way of modernising the party by bringing in a younger generation.
Young Fine Gael was established by Garret FitzGerald in 1977 as a way of modernising the party by bringing in a younger generation.

"They are not drawing young women in because it's toxic," said one former member who had sat on YFG committees.

Posts on the private YFG Facebook forum page, which has almost 400 members, sometimes reflect views that not only speak out against Government policy (which can be a healthy thing) but are ultra-conservative and anti-immigrant in tone.

In a post which linked to a newspaper article reporting that anti-abortion TDs had set up an all-party group with the aim of amending the law, one member said he was "glad to see this" adding it would hopefully "go some way to redressing some of the reckless and inhumane flaws in the current legislation".

Another post claimed that changes to the asylum system announced by Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman would see those in direct provision get "their very own council houses in just 4 months after arriving here".

"They'll be allowed work, be given free university education, healthcare and integration classes. Meanwhile, Irish taxpayers languish on housing lists for years," the post claimed.

Instead of continuing along the progressive road taken by their parent party in repealing the Eighth Amendment, many in YFG have rallied against this and used the referendum to sign-up and mobilise young anti-abortion supporters.

YFG president Art O'Mahony, who took office on Saturday, confidently spins the line that the autonomous youth wing is a broad and welcoming church, but he voted no in the referendum.

When asked about a post from a number of years ago on a 'pro-life dating Ireland' social media page, which stated "we'll bread [sic] like rabbits until we've the numbers to bring back the eighth," Mr O'Mahony refused to confirm or deny that he had written the post.

"I certainly have no recollection of the post," he said.

The 22-year-old UCC graduate from Co Kerry is extremely articulate and more politically polished than some who have occupied Leinster House seats for many years, but he is among a growing conservative group within YFG.

A quick examination of social media shows that vice-president Shane Dolphin supported a no vote in the 2018 referendum, while executive member Dara Clooney uses his Twitter profile (bio) to let followers know that he is a Catholic and a Christian Democrat.

Fellow executive council member Dylan Hutchinson stepped away from campaigning for a vacant seat on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county council last year after a derogatory social media post he made about a former TD emerged.

"There has always been this struggle in Fine Gael and YFG between the liberal side and the conservative over who will triumph," said one member who does not share these right-wing views.

The fact that Art ran unopposed shows that the conservative side far outnumbers the liberals now. It shows that the fight is gone out of the liberal side of the organisation because they know there is no point."

Youth wings of all parties have traditionally acted as a training ground for those wanting to enter local or national politics. Indeed Leo Varadkar himself came through YFG.

Youth wings of all parties have traditionally acted as a training ground for those wanting to enter local or national politics. Indeed Leo Varadkar himself came through YFG. Picture: Julien Behal Photography
Youth wings of all parties have traditionally acted as a training ground for those wanting to enter local or national politics. Indeed Leo Varadkar himself came through YFG. Picture: Julien Behal Photography

From the next election, parties will be obliged to put forward at least 40% female candidates. How can this move towards gender balance and equality be achieved if women are not promoted from the very start?

There appears to be those within YFG for whom equality is not a priority.

Last year, one female member of a private YFG online forum raised concerns that younger people are now turning to Sinn Féin and said the organisation needed to work on recruitment.

But she then added: "We are focusing too much on equality and diversity... it's time we started talking about issues that really matter to people, especially the young generations including the cost of living, young people in agriculture and also insurance costs."

Of course, members of all political organisations sit along a spectrum of standpoints and sometimes those who shout the loudest do not reflect the opinions of the majority.

"There are some really good people in Young Fine Gael who aren't like the right-wing-esque people that we read about," said one current member, who pointed to recent work on LGBT rights.

But YFG did not just arrive at this point overnight. It has been cultivating a conservative male-dominant element for some years now.

Back in 2019, then YFG president Killian Foley-Walsh, who describes himself as the “Babyfaced Blueshirt” on Twitter, sparked controversy for attending a right-wing conservative Young America's Foundation conference in Washington.

However, as YFG president, Mr O'Mahony wants to "make sure that we retain that broad church that if you could consider yourself a progressive centrist, a socially liberal individual or you consider yourself maybe slightly more of a Christian Democrat or conservative, that we speak about the issues that unite us."

YFG is the future of the party, but at present it looks very male and very stale.

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This week in years gone by 

Republican prisoner Bobby Sands died in the Maze Prison on May 5, 1981, after 66 days on hunger strike.
Republican prisoner Bobby Sands died in the Maze Prison on May 5, 1981, after 66 days on hunger strike.

May 3, 1921: The province of Northern Ireland is created within the United Kingdom under terms of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The act intends for both home rule territories to remain within the UK and contained provisions for their eventual reunification.

April 30, 1937: The Constitution of Ireland is published by Éamon de Valera. "Broadcasting to America last night, on the new draft Constitution, President de Valera said the Constitution now before the country has been drawn up from a severely practical point of view," the Cork Examiner reports.

"It is designed to provide a firm foundation for an ordered life and peaceful political development within the community, but the ideals which ought to inspire and direct that development are rightly explained." 

In a sign of the times, Confirmation Day pupils from Faithlegg National School, Co Waterford, are featured on the same page.

May 5, 1981: Republican prisoner Bobby Sands dies in the Maze Prison after 66 days on hunger strike, aged 27.

April 30, 2002: It's pie in the eye for then Fine Gael finance minister Michael Noonan on a whistle-stop tour of Roscommon. The Irish Examiner reports that Mr Noonan received an "unexpected early lunch" in Boyle when a woman threw a custard pie in his face. 

But referring to the pie incident almost a decade afterwards in an analysis piece on the man, Shaun Connolly describes him as "the sure-footed grandee of Irish politics, able to trip up opponents and coalition partners alike with a delicate flick of the ankle".

Did you know?

Leinster House started its life as a family home of the Duke of Leinster. 

During the recent extensive renovation of the building, workers on the conservation and restoration discovered artefacts and 19th-century toys, including a miniature doll, a toy soldier, a wooden spinning top, a whistle and a ball. 

Tickets, religious pamphlets, and sea shells were also found, many of which were hidden under floorboards.

The objects are now on display in Leinster House.

What to look out for this week 

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin has said she hopes to see limited outdoor performance spaces open "before long" and is confident that galleries and museums will open in the coming weeks. File picture
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin has said she hopes to see limited outdoor performance spaces open "before long" and is confident that galleries and museums will open in the coming weeks. File picture

Tuesday: Higher Education Minister Simon Harris recently launched an ambitious five-year plan to increase the number of women, single parents, and people living in direct provision involved in apprenticeship training. Apprenticeship model reform representatives from Skillnet Ireland and Solas will appear before the Education Committee and should have some interesting views on the new plan.

Tuesday: In the afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin will appear before the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure, and Reform to go through revised estimates for the offices of the attorney general, DPP, and the chief State solicitor.

Tuesday: While underage teams have been allowed to restart training in pods of 15 this week, adult sporting teams are still waiting for a kick-off time from the Government and will be hoping for clarity in the coming days. The Sports Committee will hold a roundtable discussion on issues facing women and will hear from representatives from the Camogie Association, the Federation of Irish Sport, the Gaelic Players Association, and Ladies Gaelic Football Association.

Wednesday: Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin will take questions in the Dáil. Ms Martin has said she hopes to see limited outdoor performance spaces open "before long" and is confident that galleries and museums will open in the coming weeks.

Thursday: Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is due in for his weekly appearance in the Dáil, always worth a watch for the latest on the vaccine rollout.

Thursday: Labour will table a motion in the Dáil calling for a National Autism Empowerment Strategy. It follows the ongoing problems faced by parents of autistic children in accessing health and education services including assessment of needs and appropriate school places and recent revelations in the RTÉ Investigates programme.

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