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Here's why these twenty-somethings are running in the local elections

Whether they’re party-affiliated or independent, all of these fresh-faced candidates are looking to make a mark on their constituencies and speak out for their generation.

THE LOCAL ELECTIONS are fast approaching and while some old familiar  faces are back on those campaign leaflets, there are a significant number of younger candidates putting themselves out there.

The focus of their campaigns vary but all of them agree that more needs to be done to get younger people more engaged with politics so that their interests can be represented.

We spoke to a selection of young candidates from across the country.

Maura Hopkins – Fine Gael

29-year-old Hopkins is an occupational therapist at St James’ Hospital in Dublin whose key reason for running in the Boyle area of Roscommon is that she believes this country needs an action plan to support the economy in smaller towns like her own.

“I am one of those young people that wasn’t able to live in rural Ireland and I see so many people leaving,” she said. “It’s important for us to get that education and broaden our horizons with travel but it’s also important that we create opportunities for those who wish to return.

The biggest challenge is employment – if there is not employment, young people aren’t going to live there and raise their families, even if they want to.

Hopkins, who has been involved in the youth wing of Fine Gael for a number of years, said she feels that we need more young people involved in politics – particularly young women.

“I am getting a really positive reaction from the doorsteps and there’s been huge support,” she said. “There’s a sense that there’s new ideas – fresh ideas – needed and there’s a balance needed.”

Cian Prendiville – Anti Austerity Alliance

Source: Cian Prendiville

This candidate in Limerick City North is 24-years-old and has been politically active for ten years having joined a campaign against the war in Iraq while he was in secondary school. He said the main issue he is focusing on is unemployment in Limerick.

“I myself am unemployed and two thirds of young men in Limerick City are unemployed,” he said. “The average rate of unemployment here is twice the national average and the only options for young people are emigration and JobBridge.”

His experience on the doorsteps has also been positive as the 24-year-old said his age “doesn’t really ever come up”.

People are more concerned about what you’re about – I don’t think people are looking at the age or the face of the person – they are looking for the policy of the candidate.

On the topic of young people’s hunger for politics – or lack thereof – Prendiville said he thinks “there’s a disdain towards politicians”.

“Young people have – up until recently – tuned out of politics because there had been nothing for them. What politics had to offer was cutbacks, college fees and emigration,” he explained. “When you’re talking to them about the issues they have a lot to say and they’re interested but they’ve been alienated from the political establishment.”

Gary Gannon – Independent

27-year-old Gannon is running in Dublin’s north inner city and has recently worked with early school leavers to help them to get back into education and gain employment.

“I’m somebody who is working on a very issues formed basis, rather than politically formed,” he told us. “I don’t have any family connections to parties and I don’t have background in it.”

As Gannon is a first time candidate and doesn’t have a large party budget backing his campaign, he’s made an ambitious promise to knock on every door in his constituency before the election and he said he is “slowly and methodically getting through it”.

“I can’t get into apartments and of course lots of people aren’t answering because they aren’t there so I’ve started leaving stickers saying “sorry I missed you”,” he joked. “It’s a big promise but it’s a great conversation starter and it’s important for me to talk to people.”

The Dublin candidate said the topic of his youth does come up on the doorsteps but “only in a negative sense from people who are affiliated with other politicians”.

Most people see it as refreshing because if you keep voting for the same old politicians you keep getting the same old politics.

Political interest among Irish youths has moved away from party politics and has become more issues-based, according to Gannon, who said he would be “mortified being in the youth wing of a party”. He also said he would be in favour of lowering the voting age to 16, pointing out that at that age himself, he was working and paying taxes as many teens are today.

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire – Sinn Féin

This is the second time the young Sinn Féin candidate is running in the Ballincollig/Carrigaline area of Cork, having come seventh in a six seat race the last time.

The 25-year-old said he had not planned to get involved in politics when he was in college but Sinn Féin’s policies spoke to him and reflected his experience of growing up in Ireland.

“I still see ferocious evidence of disadvantage and that motivates you to get involved and work for a more equal society,” he told TheJournal.ie.

Ó Laoghaire said that with 71,000 people living in his constituency, there are a variety of experiences from both an urban and rural perspective.

My generation were led to believe that Ireland was thriving and there would be great opportunities but so many people I grew up with have emigrated to Australia and Canada and there’s not much in the way of employment. Access to education is also becoming increasingly difficult, particularly if you’re from a low income background because the amount of grants has been reduced.

The Cork candidate has the advantage of having run in the area in the past and said he is well known for the work he’s done in the community in the last few years so his age is not an issue for prospective voters in his constituency.

“I think people are encouraged to see a new generation willing to step forward and take leadership to change the system. People are ferociously frustrated with politics at a local level and a national level and also the delivery.”

Grace Tallon – Labour

This 28-year-old music teacher is already sitting on the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council and is running in the Dundrum area in this election.

She comes from a family that has always supported the Labour party and joked that she “couldn’t really get away from it”.

“I really think it’s important for young people to be in there,” she said. “It’s important for them to have their votes and obviously experience is important but we need young voices in politics to talk about what affects young people.”

What’s the best way to get more young people interested in politics? It’s simple according to Tallon – just talk to them.

When you engage with them they realise there’s so much we can do at a local level and we can do lots more as a group and that’s what’s encouraging younger candidates to get involved.

From her experience on the council in the last two years, she has learned that “it takes an awfully long time for things to happen.”

“We have little powers in the council but there are huge things you can do,” she said, referencing a campaign she headed encouraging people to shop locally which has already helped businesses in the area.

“The thing is, you’re very much on your own as a councillor, obviously I work with Labour and get lots of help from colleagues but you’re doing all your own stuff,” she explained.

Adam Wyse – Fianna Fáil

Wyse took his place on the council representing Waterford City East following the sudden death of his father, Councillor Gary Wyse last year. For him, this election is not just about representing his community, it’s about continuing the work his father did in the area for many years.

The 19-year-old is the youngest Fianna Fáil candidate and one of the youngest candidates running in the election but he said there was always a plan for him to take his father’s seat – he just hadn’t expected it to happen so soon.

I remember when I was in sixth year and dad would be driving me to school and we’d listen to what was being said on the radio and talk about it afterwards so I always had an interest in it and what he was doing. There are two other boys in my family but my dad always said that if someone was going to take his place it would be me.

Wyse said his age is mentioned by people when he’s out canvassing but most people tell him they think he’s “brave to be out doing this”.

“There are some people who might think, you know, I haven’t the experience but that’s nothing without dedication and action and you could have ten or twenty or thirty years of experience but if you’re not taking action you won’t get anything done,” he said.

Encouraging younger people in his area to vote is a priority for Wyse as he said there are 170 people under the age of 21 in his area who haven’t registered to vote yet – including some of his own friends.

“People never believe that one vote can make a difference but it did for my dad, he got in on eight votes in 2009 and the city would have lost an awful lot if he wasn’t elected,” Wyse commented. “We need to encourage young people to realise their vote is encouraged, needed and respected.”

Cormac Manning – Green Party

Currently studying Law and Irish at UCC, the 21-year-old first time candidate says he decided to run because there are “so many things being done wrong” that he thought need to be changed.

He also thinks the 70,000 people living in his constituency of Ballincollig-Carrigaline should have the option of voting green.  Manning believes his party is offering something different that is particularly attractive for younger voters – policies that look to the future.

“We don’t just look towards the short-term or the next election, we’re looking towards the next generation,” he told TheJournal.ie.

I suppose because of what happened in the last general election, we have a lot of first time candidates or people who ran limited campaigns before so we’ve got a mix of fresh ideas and people with experience.

Manning said some people on the doorstep have been “skeptical” because of his youth but he has been pointing out that with 55 people to represent the interest of everyone in Cork, diversity is needed in the council.

“There’s a whole generation of different experiences of life going unrepresented,” he said.

“It’s a vicious circle really because young people don’t see it as being relevant to them so they don’t vote and then the establishment just focuses on groups who do vote.”

Like the other young candidates we interviewed, he’s hoping his presence on the council will help foster equality in his community.

“If you walk down any street or call around any estate you can see social inequalities and gaps between rich and poor at the moment and I think that it’s horrible and needs to be addressed,” he added.

Will you be giving new and younger candidates a chance in the upcoming local elections or will you be sticking with familiar faces?

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