IN HER SECOND year of college, Ciara Leonardi Roche found herself without a place to live.
She and her partner slept on couches and in spare rooms for six months after falling behind on their rent.
Eventually, the Cobh activist had to leave her health science studies at Cork IT.
She was due to graduate this year and had planned to work in nutrition after college.
But now, less than a year after becoming homeless, her focus is on contesting the general election for the Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit (AAA-PBP) grouping in Cork East.
At 22, Leonardi Roche is part of a small group of younger candidates vying for a seat in the next Dáil.
Her selection may have been swifter than more established politicians in her constituency – she became an AAA member in March and was nominated to run four months later – but she had a long involvement in local community groups before turning to party politics.
Did she always regard herself as a socialist?
“I always called myself a community activist: I was part of the anti-pylon movement here and the campaign against the Ringaskiddy incinerator.
There was huge resistance down in Cobh to the water meters and I was very involved in that as well.
I only really began thinking of myself as a socialist when I started to take an interest in the political side of things.
That interest was sparked at an AAA meeting in Cork last summer, where she heard TD Paul Murphy speak.
Hearing what they had to offer … I thought: ‘Now this is exactly what I’m about.’
With a three-year-old child and newly-rented house, Leonardi Roche says she knows first-hand the difficulties faced by struggling families across the country.
Are water charges still a big issue on the doorsteps? “Definitely,” she says.
We all know they’re going to be privatised. For me, that’s what’s scary. I can’t afford any more bills.
Hopeful of an opening in Cork East for the AAA-PBP, she says its anti-austerity policies seem to attract particular support in less well-off parts of the constituency.
In places like Cobh, Youghal and Midleton, there are big working class areas that didn’t get a slice of the cake during the Celtic Tiger.
In a neighbouring constituency, another young candidate is working the doors.
Lorna Bogue is running for a seat for the Green Party in Cork South-Central, where former party TD Dan Boyle suffered a bruising defeat back in 2007.
The 24-year-old University of Limerick graduate is the Greens’ welfare spokesperson and a former chair of its youth wing, the Young Greens.
A former Labour supporter, she voted for what she now jokingly refers to as the “democratic revolution” in 2011, but ended her involvement in the party following the Savita Halappanavar case.
Cuts to payments such as the lone-parent allowance were also particularly difficult to stomach, she says.
We were a minority government party ourselves, so we understand Labour’s position, but they had a lot more TDs in this government that we ever did and they really have abandoned their basic principles.
While she disagreed with many of the last coalition’s policies, Bogue credits the Greens for driving through some its most progressive measures, including civil partnership.
A former college debater, she is not one to hold back an opinion when it comes to her political rivals.
In a TV3 constituency debate earlier this month, she directly confronted Minister Simon Coveney over his view that politicians should not forced to clarify their stance on the issue of abortion.
“Simon Coveney has said he doesn’t want people to bring it up on the doors,” she said.
How dare you? How dare you tell constituents what they are to say?
Turning to Micheál Martin, another constituency rival, she added: “We’ve got [the Fianna Fáil leader] saying the party are not going there on this issue. But with respect, 12 people a day are going there – there being the UK.”
As she put it to us last year: “I wanted to get involved in politics because I’m just kind of tired of middle-aged men pissing away my future all the time.”
But Bogue says she is realistic about her electoral chances in Cork South-Central, dubbed the “group of death” after constituency changes left five high-profile TDs to battle for four seats.
Maybe people will turn around and want something different, but for me it’s about getting a good showing and proving that people do care about the issues we’re talking about.
If elected, she says she will donate €25,000 of her TD’s salary back to the constituency.
One of the points I’m trying to make is that a lot of people my age are going into careers where they’re making less money than their colleagues just because they’re younger, and that’s unfair.
I’m part of a generation that’s been ignored and spun lies about the recovery. Not many people I know feel this recovery.
The sentiment is one shared by Claire Kerrane, a 23-year-old Sinn Féin candidate in Roscommon-Galway.
Now in her final year of a teaching master’s at NUI Galway, the Tibohine native is combining canvassing with teaching practice at a school in Roscommon town.
“Probably the only reason I’m still here is because I’m in education,” she says.
When I’m finished my teaching practice – if I don’t get elected – I know I’m unlikely to get a job with enough hours to keep me going.
My friends are all living in London, Australia and America. None of them wanted to emigrate. They have degrees and they were forced to leave. They’ve all left families behind.
There are no job opportunities for us here in the west. I’m the last of the gang left here.
A local issue is what first sparked Kerrane’s interest in politics: she campaigned against plans to build a waste plant in the area and felt Sinn Féin was the only party that listened to residents’ concerns.
They were the only ones who stood with us and that meant a lot.
But the party has never had much success in the constituency, she admits.
Count Plunkett, father of executed 1916 leader Joseph Mary Plunkett, became the only Sinn Féin candidate in history to ever win a seat there when he was elected to the House of Commons in 1917 on an abstentionist ticket.
Kerrane is optimistic, though, and hopes to be in with a chance for the third seat.
Our chances are looking better than they have in recent elections. We had a Leitrim man standing for us here last time and I think some people weren’t too keen about him not being local.
She got her first start in politics as a secretarial assistant to former local TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan – an experience she describes as “invaluable”.
There’s no better place than a constituency office to learn about the issues on the ground.
She says she also has “great admiration” for Gerry Adams, who joined her on the campaign trail last week.
A lot of people mention Mary Lou [McDonald as a potential Sinn Féin leader] and I’m sure she will head the party one day – there’d be no better woman to do it – but Gerry is very well regarded on the ground.
It’s the media that try to portray him in a negative way.
In Dublin Central, another young candidate offers a different perspective.
Kerry Guinan is a 23-year-old artist and bar worker living in Stoneybatter.
The NCAD graduate is running on an independent platform focusing on culture and the need to “dismantle classist cultural value systems by creating a radical new art structure”, as her manifesto puts it.
She proposes to “abolish education barriers to art work” by introducing free state art training programmes for all ages and “dissolve public art institutions that produce class”, including the Arts Council, Culture Ireland, the Institute of Art and Design and NCAD, her alma mater.
Guinan also wants to see the introduction of a means-tested “art-producing welfare allowance” that would be distributed to artists through a quota system for different genders, sexes, sexualities, abilities, races and nationalities.
The state, she says, should assume complete responsibility for the provision of art services to ensure facilities such as the soon-to-be-evicted Block T in Smithfield are protected from speculation and privatisation.
Last year, Guinan was at the forefront of a campaign against cuts and overcrowding at NCAD.
She was one of several hundred activists who delivered signed letters of protest to the art college’s director, Declan McGonagle, who stepped down later that year following a number of student sit-ins.
Now, with her eyes set on a bigger stage, she says she is unfazed by questions over her “single-issue” focus.
The most common retort you hear is: ‘Why art? Why not anything else?’ But the truth is that art is deeply connected to other kind of social justice issues.
When art facilities are forced to shut, both artists and communities are displaced.
Without the funding available to other candidates in the constituency, Guinan hopes to reach voters through media and online.
I’m a part-time worker on very low wages so I can’t fund a big public campaign in terms of postering, but I will be engaging with institutions and communities that are suffering the most.
Michael Dillon, a 24-year-old independent candidate in Tipperary, faces a similar challenge.
Facebook and local papers have helped him get his message across to voters, but he says his weekly social welfare payment restricts what he can do on the ground.
The Portroe native has been unemployed since graduating with a qualification in radio broadcasting from Limerick College of Further Education.
“There’s absolutely nothing going on in my village,” he says.
There’s a pub, one church and a shop. And if you go to Nenagh, there’s no work there either.
Mental health is one of Dillon’s key concerns and he cites the closure of St Michael’s psychiatric unit in Clonmel as an example of the “disgraceful” state of services in the area.
I have anxiety and I did suffer from depression and there are very few supports for people here with these kind of issues. The mental health situation in Tipperary is absolutely shocking.
He describes himself as a “man of the people” candidate standing against austerity and greed.
The reason independents are going to do so well now is because they’ve no-one behind them telling them to shut up and threatening to kick them out of the party.
The frustration felt by unemployed young people in his area is something he also wants to tap into.
I’m living at home at the moment but I don’t know how anyone can get by on €188 a week. It’s ridiculous.
We have ministers making over €150,000 a year and they’re giving us empty promises.
He is a fan of local TD Michael Lowry – “the only one who does anything for us here” – but not Alan Kelly.
“They say there’s no money for health and housing and yet look at all the posters around town here. Sure Kelly has at least 50,000 posters around Tipperary and he’s meant to be the minister for the environment.
How come this money isn’t being pumped into services for the community?
This is Dillon’s first time contesting a general election after he ran unsuccessfully for a Tipperary County Council seat in 2014 but he hopes to have a long-term future in politics.
“I’ve always wanted to be a politician,” he says.
It’s unlikely I’ll get elected this time but I will run again when I’m older – if I’ve enough money to do so.