What Young Irish People Really Think About Politics

Reporting by Emily Carson, Rosie Gogan-Keogh & Ellen King
Photography by Killian Broderick

Jobs, housing, emigration, Brexit, repealing the 8th amendment – we find out the biggest issues facing young people across our island in 2017.


Ireland may finally feel like it’s in recovery after a generation of economic turmoil, but for many the reality feels as though it’s worse than ever before. The general consensus regarding young people is often that their political interest and engagement can be abysmally low: ‘they don’t vote and they don’t care’ is an opinion we have heard over and over again. Yet it’s clear when we look at our own recent Marriage Equality Referendum and the mounting debate around the repeal of the 8th amendment that young people can be mobilised to try and change the status quo, and do in fact give a damn. We travelled the length of country and spoke to a cross-section of this island’s young people to find out who swings their vote and what their biggest concerns are.

Rory Reilly, 19, student, Meath

What do you make of Leo Varadkar?

Oh he’s the worst I can’t stand him, get rid of him by any means possible boat, plane, helicopter anything!

What’s the biggest change you’d like to see in Ireland in the next few years?

I think it would be great if they were more spaces for young people, particularly young queer people, or young people who are marginalised in any way. Spaces where they can go and do what they want. I know when I was in secondary school there were so many things my friends and I wanted to do, but there was never anywhere we could go and do them. There are so many people who have so many great ideas and they’re not encouraged in any way and I think that’s a big issue.  

What’s the biggest issue facing young people in Ireland right now?

I live just outside Balbriggan in county Meath and I live really near the direct provision centre in Mosney. It’s so close to me so I see what’s going on and it’s not ok, so many things are being glossed over. It makes no sense when we’re such a small country.


“The people at the forefront of the movement are so articulate, I think it’s amazing that they can take the thoughts and emotions and experiences of so many people”


How do you feel about repealing the 8th movement?

It’s a long time coming and I’m so glad that there are so many different voices being heard. The people at the forefront of the movement are so articulate, I think it’s amazing that they can take the thoughts and emotions and experiences of so many people by far the majority of the country – and express them in such a way that makes it so clear. It’s such an obvious issue and it’s such a shame that there are others out there who want to trick and manipulate people into believing things that just aren’t true.


Dorothy Jozefecka, 26, florist, Kilkenny

When was the last time you voted?

I voted once, because I’m not a citizen my voting rights are limited. I’m originally Polish but have been here the last 15 years. I voted for the local TDs, but apart from that I was sadly exempt from the Marriage Equality Referendum and now sadly I’m going to be disqualified from the repeal the 8th amendment referendum because it will come up before I get my citizenship. It’s upsetting really because I’ve been in the country for so long that it’s a little sad that my voice doesn’t matter.

Do you pay attention to politics?

Honestly I don’t pay all that much attention to politics because to me, it’s a bunch of old men sitting in a room discussing what our lives are going to be like in another 20 years time. I think even based on their salaries, they don’t know how life is anymore for somebody working part time, or for minimum wage or trying to raise kids or what have you. On top of that I think that it needs to change to a younger people in the office, the older generation don’t know what the world is like anymore. The newer generation are kind of stepping away from religion and realising that religion isn’t a part of a government. It’s a personal choice rather than something that should be enforced on a widespread [issue].

What’s important for your generation?

For me, at this moment as a female living in Ireland, it’s the referendum on repealing the 8th amendment. They’re trying [to make it seem] like things are black and white, but things are never black and white and it’s what is right for that person in that situation.


PJ Phelan, 25, call centre worker, Kilkenny

When was the last time you voted?

Last time I would’ve voted was for the gay marriage referendum. I didn’t vote in that last general election because I didn’t really know who to vote for and they all sort of seemed a bit crap, for want of a better term.

What do you think of the information out there for voters?

I think there’s information there but everything is very twisted. You know Sinn Féin is bad, Fine Gael is bad, Fianna Fáil is worse! I suppose I would probably be a bit cynical, but it makes you cynical. One paper says one thing and another paper says another so I don’t know.

What do you think of Leo Varadkar?

Look… I think he’s a smart guy but he doesn’t have the soft touch maybe… he’s very right wing like? Like I know he’s gay and that but that doesn’t really have anything to do with it, he’s really conservative outside of that whole thing so I wouldn’t be that fond of him really.

What are the most important issues for your generation?

I think employment is the main thing really. I know I’m employed but I know a lot of people that are still struggling to find employment. Rent is a huge thing, it’s just impossible to find somewhere to rent. I mean I have a place but I’m paying maybe €400-€450 a month to live in Kilkenny, like a lot of my wages are going every month on rent.


It’s something that I would support in general terms but people need to know what they’re saying yes to.”   


What do you think about the repeal the 8th referendum?

It’s a hard one. It’s the type of thing that I look at and I just think it’s going to be a bloodbath. It depends on what way they do it, because it’s not just a yes and no answer, it depends what people are saying yes to and if they know what they’re saying yes to. It’s something that I would support in general terms but people need to know what they’re saying yes to. Some people would be like ‘abortions whenever you want’ and other people might want certain limitations. They need to strike a balance with it.

Do you think there’s misinformation out there on the topic?

Oh yeah, a load of misinformation on both sides. A lot of times you see them making fun of groups like ‘Catholic Mothers’ or something like that, but there’s misinformation the other way as well. It’s not as if it’s not a valid opinion to say you don’t support abortion but, it’s just something that people get very emotional about. As I say, it’s going to be a bloodbath so I’ll have the popcorn ready.


Alex McDonnell, 19, student, Dublin

How do you feel about Leo Varadkar?

He’s ok but I don’t see a big ideological difference between him and Enda Kenny or even him and Micheál Martin. I think who’s in power is going to be inconsequential really.  

How do you feel about the repeal the 8th movement?

I’m pro-life so I think the law as it stands is fair and right.

What political issues affect you?

I’m not sure what affects me now but what will probably will affect me is housing. Considering house prices are going up and I’m not going to be able to afford a house for a very long time.

What are the biggest changes you’d like to see in Ireland in the next few years?

Personal tax is very high and when you hit the top grade of tax it lowers your salary a lot so I’d really like to see that come down.


Con, 21, student, Dublin

What do you think of Leo Varadkar?  

I think it’s a good step forward to have a gay Taoiseach, but at the same time despite the fact that he is a minority I don’t feel he represents the minorities very well.

What’s the biggest change you’d like to see in Ireland in the next few years?

I think I’d like to see us moving forward because you look at Dublin and it’s right up with other cities all over the world but you look at the rest of the county and it’s still a little backwards. I would like to see this kind of multicultural, inclusive environment to spread around Ireland.

What is the biggest issue you feel affects young people in Ireland today?

I think young people’s lack of willingness to vote is a big issue. I think there should be more campaigns around getting young people out voting because we’re one of the lowest percentage group of voters, and we’re the future so it doesn’t make sense.


Cath McLoughlin, 23, artist, Belfast

What’s the biggest change you’d like to see worldwide?

An end to the massive gap in wages between the rich and the poor. I think things would be a lot better if we worked to a slightly more socialist model rather than extreme greedy capitalism which leaves everyone in a lower wage bracket to really fend for themselves. I think we should all look out for each other a bit more.

How did you react when you heard the Theresa May was going into government with the DUP?

I actually wrote a Facebook status about it that said: ‘waking up to this fresh hell led by the DUP and the Tories has fairly soured my morning’. I think that sums up my reaction really well, genuinely disgusted, no words!


“Pretty much everything the current government does offends me on every level.”


How do you feel about the current government?

Pretty much everything the current government does offends me on every level. I think my age group is massively affected by our government, in that they have no interest in the youth because they think they can’t mobilise our vote. They’re interested in pensioners because they vote and they’re interested in the upper class because they vote. Anyone outside that holds no interest for them, they have no interest in people who aren’t going to get them into power, none of their politics is around what’s morally right or what works economically, it’s just all about them getting into power and staying there. No matter what the consequences for the rest of the population.

How do you think Brexit will affect you?

As an artist pretty horribly, because a lot our funding for singular artists and for artist collectives or galleries comes from outside the UK and with Brexit that will dry up. It’s going to massively affect the sector I’m just edging into. So in the long run I’m going to lose out on funding which is terrible because the arts sector is already badly underfunded as it is. Our current government has no interest in it.


Saul Devlin, 17, student, Belfast

What is the biggest change you would like to see in the world?  

We need to get away from these two extreme sides that we’re seeing politically at the moment. Opposing sides have lead to things like Trump and Brexit, we used to be a lot more middle of the road politically and while it might not have been as interesting, things did get done slowly.

How did you feel when you heard Theresa May was going into government with the DUP?  

Scared shitless! Cause it’s the DUP, and we’ve been with the DUP for years, we know how difficult they are, they’re such a backward party and the Tories at the minute are being very archaic in their actions and difficult themselves but, now they have the added bonus of the DUP.  When we heard about the money coming in from them that’s a very nice thing, however it’s the DUP you’re dealing with so then it’ll go to Stormont and nothing will ever happen with it because of those idiots.

How do you think Brexit will affect you?

It’ll make any type of travel more difficult I’m sure. At the moment I’m thinking of getting my Irish passport, which should fix things! Locally, the thing I’m worried about most is rising prices, because that’s what seems to be happening at the minute. If I want to live outside the UK which I might do, I’m a bit screwed. I would have wanted to do that gap year go around Europe – and that’ll become a lot more difficult for me. I’m a student so it’s not going to affect me totally at the minute but it will have an impact on people like farmers and shopkeepers.

How did you feel about the current government?

I never liked the Tories anyway so personally I’m not into them. With the UK government itself I’m pleased that labour managed to get more of a foothold and at least scared the other side, but at the same time with the DUP coming in it’s going to become a whole lot more difficult. For local government it’s mostly the same thing, though I’d say more elections will happen and from that hopefully we could have a good outcome but I’m quite uncertain about that. I would not be surprised if something like direct rule happened by the end of this year because it’s such a mess.  


Noel, 20, student, Belfast

What the biggest change you’d like to see worldwide?

Less pettiness especially in terms of politics, more working together on globalised issues rather than sorting out their own agenda.

How did you react when your heard Theresa May was going into government with the DUP?

Not too well because it was just a move to strengthen her own ego and didn’t really benefit the entirety of the UK.

How do you feel about the current government?

They really do look after their own communities and they fight for people within their own jurisdiction but they don’t really care about communities outside their jurisdiction and they’re all just trying to score points off each other, it’s horrible.

How do you think Brexit will affect you?

It will affect me big time because it hinders all my opportunities to go abroad to study abroad. We have benefited a lot from EU funding and not being able to get most of that will be damaging on Northern Ireland as a whole.


Eimear Kiely, 21, graphic design student, Cork

Have you voted before?  

I voted in the marriage referendum and in the most recent general election.

When voting do you have a particular learning towards a party?

Not really no, I go for parties that invest in women’s rights and marriage equality and young politicians who are invested in issues that affect young people. I would not have voted Leo Varadkar in at all, I didn’t support Enda Kenny and I didn’t support Micheál Martin or anyone like that.

What do you think of Leo Varadkar?  

When he first got elected I thought it was a good thing because it’s great that a gay man got elected but also he’s very conservative and he’s not invested in issues that affect young people. When he announced that there would be a referendum on repeal the 8th I was very surprised, so I’m still very unsure what to make of him I’ll have to wait and see what he does.  

As a young student growing up in Cork what are the issues you feel affect your generation?  

Housing, definitely. I have so many friends who have had to sleep on people’s couches or move home because they couldn’t afford to live up here or find a house. And then I do have friends who have found house but they’re literally paying a fortune to live in utility room where the water has frozen over and things. Housing should be of a good quality. It’s an issue that’s really affecting people.

What do you think the government should do about that?

They could make it so they have tabs on who’s renting. I know people who have landlords who are dodging taxes who take cash in hand and cram eight people into one house and things. I also think they should look into where people are living. I have friends who have been living next to where heroin dealers live and they’ve had people murdered near them, which is shocking. This is something that is really hard to deal with at the best of times, but especially hard if you’re young and you’ve just moved to a new city.

One change you would make in Ireland or the world, what would it be?

It would probably be repeal the 8th. I think that would be a really good thing to have, I know there’s a lot of stigma around it but I really think everyone should have the choice.


Katie Archer, 19, student, Cloyne

Have you ever voted?

I’ve never voted but I need to apply soon. I’m an environmental person so when I do vote I’ll make sure they have a strong stance on that.

What are your thoughts on Leo Varadkar becoming Taoiseach?

I was pleased. I think it’s a great thing that he’s gay and his father’s not from Ireland. I don’t know too much about his policies but generally I agree with Fine Gael.

How do you feel about the upcoming 8th amendment referendum?

I think it’s such a difficult question. I’m pro-life but when it comes to voting I think people should have a choice. My opinion is mine but I don’t want to force that on others.

What is the one big change you’d like to see in the world?

It’s important that we face the issues with the environment and focus on renewable energies. That needs to be brought into the education system too.


Ciarán Roche, 22, law student, Cork city & Brooklyn, New York

Have you ever voted?

The [marriage equality] referendum was the first time I voted.

What are the biggest issues facing young people in Cork?

Repeal the 8th is a big topic for the whole country, not just Cork. The fact that young women have to travel to the UK is terrible. It [abortion] needs to be readily available for all women.

What did you think when Leo Varadkar became Taoiseach?

I’m not a fan. I didn’t like when he compared women going to the UK for abortions to lads going to Amsterdam for the weekend. I don’t think he likes women or young people. He’s classist and doesn’t have young people at heart.

You’ve been living in the States, did you want to come back to Ireland?

I did and I didn’t. I’m Irish American. Going out into the working world there, there are so many opportunities. It is a much more youthful place but it is not for the old or for the sick. They’ve closed off the entry ways now which is sad to see as there are great opportunities there.


Eben O’Riordan, 18, Cork city

What would a good government look like to you?

I don’t think there is a right government. I’m an anarchist. It’s our natural instinct. Not some school shit that’s forced upon you.

What are the biggest issues facing you and your friends?

Getting jobs. Being discriminated by the shades. I’ve been told I’m a junkie and dragged into a car and taken to my mum and they’ve told her they’d take my little sister away. There are a few top of the range ones but if you get one in a bad mood, they have a proper superiority complex. One time, I told a shade I lived in Montenotte [an area in Cork city] and he told me I didn’t, because my kind didn’t live in an area as nice as Montenotte.

I’ve had some of them come up to me and tear my pockets out for no reason and then I’ve seen kids fighting and they don’t turn up. Of course we disrespect them if they don’t treat us fairly. They expect us to just comply. It’s ridiculous.


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