Aoife Moore: Without a seat at the table, young people will be at the mercy of bad policy

From rent to education and childcare, key policies that affect young people's lives are decided by those far removed from the coalface
Aoife Moore: Without a seat at the table, young people will be at the mercy of bad policy

Aoife Moore: The age of those who represent us matters and young people are increasingly being left without a voice at the table.

If the Dáil is a reflection of Irish society, then Irish society is a white man nearing 50.

While just 22.5% of those elected to the Dáil are women – 36 of the 160 deputies, just 2% of TDs elected in 2020 were in their 20s.

The average age in the chamber is 48½ years.

That cohort in their 40s represent the largest slice of the Dáil, with some 38% of TDs (61) in that bracket. Those in their 50s are second with 29% (47 TDs), followed by thirtysomethings, who make up 16% (25). A further 14% are in their 60s.

This is reflected in the parties too, with the average age being somewhere around the mid-40s – Fianna Fáil (48), Sinn Féin (47), Fine Gael (48), Green Party (45), Labour (46) and the Social Democrats (46.5)

People Before Profit, despite its sizeable base in the student community, has an average age of mid-50s.

Some would argue the age of a voter could correspond to the age of a TD, with many more likely to vote for those with the same level of life experience, but Ireland has often demonstrated that some of our youngest representatives are the most popular, hardworking and tenacious.

Former baby of the Dáil Simon Harris has been catapulted through his own party ranks. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos
Former baby of the Dáil Simon Harris has been catapulted through his own party ranks. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

Former baby of the Dáil Simon Harris has been catapulted through his own party ranks, current baby of the Dáil James O'Connor is beloved in Fianna Fáil for his ability to speak his mind and stand up for young people, while Sinn Féin's Claire Kerrane and Mairead Farrell, and Social Democrats' Holly Cairns and Gary Gannon have been incredibly popular since their election.

The age of those who represent us matters and young people are increasingly being left without a voice at the table.

There are many issues that disproportionately affect young people. Education policy, for instance, is dictated by those who have left schools decades before and haven't been back since.

Youth unemployment and childcare costs will all hit younger generations harder than their parents, while they are increasingly more affected by longer-term issues like climate change and social welfare reform. 

Without a greater presence of young people in our political institutions, laws being passed by older politicians, longer removed from the coal face, may be detrimental to the short- and long-term interests of those coming behind them.

The answer to this should be easy: encourage young people to get into politics.

Bullying, harassment, and a lack of oversight

Most of the larger parties have their own youth wings: Young Fine Gael, Ógra Sinn Féin, Ógra Fianna Fáil and the Young Greens. But, in this year alone, this newspaper has documented bullying, harassment, and a lack of oversight or ability to deal adequately with complaints in all these youth organisations.

The most common target in these groups is usually women, which is unsurprising given what we know about how women are targeted disproportionately in public life anyway.

What we've seen is a trickle of young, talented women driven out of youth organisations they love and it is further reflected at the polls.

The Dáil has just 36 women and Ireland has the 10th lowest representation of women in national parliaments in Europe.

Young men, too, tell us they've left because their complaints went unanswered and so those who had been victimised, rather than those who victimised them, are forced out of politics.

Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns is among a group of young TDs who have been incredibly popular since their election. File picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns is among a group of young TDs who have been incredibly popular since their election. File picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Parties say they want more young people involved in politics, that the Dáil will only serve Ireland when it looks like Ireland, but they do little to address the very real issues within their own ranks.

Their youth movements are often trotted out around election and ard fheis time, displaying to the nation how diverse they are and how attractive to young people, in an attempt to cajole other youngsters into joining. However, when it comes down to protecting their young supporters, most have failed spectacularly.

Parties have a duty of care to the young people in their ranks and it's not enough to turn the other cheek when they are asking for help. When young people are making repeated complaints, parties can't say they didn't know.

Youth wings are usually seen as the 'wild west' of party structure, with poor governance and a general nudge and a wink towards most of the actions they take.

These groups are an afterthought rather than seen as their party's future, allowed to have their own meetings and their own elections but in the grand scheme of things, they are not viewed as all that important.

Exodus of young people

How these groups should be run and governed isn't something the grown-ups are too worried about, and the result is the very real exodus of young people who had been let down by those around them.

A condescension emanating from the senior party can allow for bullying and bad practice to foment, while some are just not equipped to deal with complaints because they don't take the youth movement all that seriously anyway.

That condescension was clear in the reaction to the story about bullying in Ógra Fianna Fáil which appeared in this newspaper last week. The inevitable labels of "snowflakes" against those who "can't hack it" trickled into the comment section, apparently without the tiniest hint of self-awareness that they are demonstrating the exact problem with attitudes towards young people in politics.

Older generations always believe the one who comes behind them are spoilt, lazy and not as tough as they were, despite not knowing if any of that is true, and rail against those younger as "disrespectful" for speaking back.

Those who want respect, give respect, and parties who allow bullying to carry on in their ranks are not showing their young members much respect at all, then lament the lack of young people in their own movement and politics across the board.

Young people are greatly at the hands of bad policy and until they have a seat at the table, that's not going to change.

While you are here, why not sign up to our 'On The Plinth' political newsletter? Delivered direct to your inbox every Tuesday. Sign up here exa.mn/OnThePlinth.

Did you know?

In January 1919, in the first meeting of the Dáil in Dublin’s Mansion House, Michael Collins and Harry Boland were marked present but were in fact in England helping Éamon de Valera escape from Lincoln prison.

After a couple of botched attempts, a key was smuggled into the prison in a fruit cake for use in the escape.

Collins had also had a key cut, but when he tried to open the gate from the outside it broke in the lock. De Valera inserted his key in from the other side, pushing out Collins' broken key, turned the lock and the Irish president and two other prisoners duly escaped.

The political week ahead

Gardaí warned the newly built seating areas were not licensed to sell alcohol just as the Government reopened outdoor hospitality. Picture: Liam Burke/Press 22
Gardaí warned the newly built seating areas were not licensed to sell alcohol just as the Government reopened outdoor hospitality. Picture: Liam Burke/Press 22

As the ongoing issues over outdoor drinking are yet to be resolved, it's expected a short new bill will be tabled this week in order to allow for publicans and restaurants to serve alcohol on newly built outdoor seating areas. Gardaí warned the newly built seating areas were not licensed to sell alcohol just as the Government reopened outdoor hospitality.

The bill will bring "absolute clarity" to the situation, according to Government sources, after weeks of confusion around the issue.

Tuesday: Taoiseach Micheál Martin will address the nation on Tuesday evening regarding any decision taken by the Government to delay or postpone the reopening of indoor dining amid concerns about the spread of the Delta variant. Nphet provided advice to Government late on Monday night about what they thought was best in terms of the reopening roadmap, with the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar noting it was unlikely that Government would deviate from public health advice.

Wednesday: People Before Profit's Industrial Relations (Provisions in Respect of Pension Entitlements of Retired Workers) Bill 2021 will be debated in the Dáil on Wednesday.

The bill would amend and extend certain rights and protections of retired people and certain representative associations in relation to industrial relations and trade disputes. The bill would enable retired workers to appear before workplace relations committees regardless of the length of time the worker has been retired. A socially distant demonstration is also planned for Tuesday afternoon, calling on TDs to support the bill.

Thursday: The Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 will be debated in the Dáil as it reaches second stage.

The bill provides for the inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum taught by recognised schools in the State and would amend the Education Act 1998.

Senator Colette Kelleher has sponsored the bill and says it is essential that young people and children are taught about all aspects of Irish society, which includes Traveller history.

While you are here, why not sign up to our 'On The Plinth' political newsletter? Delivered direct to your inbox every Tuesday. Sign up here exa.mn/OnThePlinth.

More in this section

IE_180_logo
Price info

Subscribe to unlock unlimited digital access.
Cancel anytime.

Terms and conditions apply

Lunchtime
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up