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The 30 hottest young politicos in Ireland right now

TheJournal.ie’s verdict on the hottest young talents working in Irish politics right now.

TOO OFTEN WE’RE told that young people just don’t care when it comes to politics, but that’s not exactly the case.

In attempting to show that politics is not just for old, white, middle-class men (and the occasional woman) we’ve compiled a list of who we think will be the people to watch in the months and years ahead, particularly in the lead-up to the next general election.

Our by no means exhaustive list of the 30 hottest young politicos in Ireland right now includes councillors, candidates and those who’ve already made waves in youth politics. Almost all of them are under 30, from all over the country and from various diverse backgrounds.

In the coming months, we’ll be attempting to speak to all of these bright young things and discover just why they’re so passionate about a profession that is so often derided.

The list, in alphabetical order, has been compiled by our political editor Hugh O’Connell along with political writer Órla Ryan.

1. Sam Blanckensee (Labour)

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The 21-year-old Wicklow native got a taste for politics through his role as the LGBT coordinator at UCD. Sam recently told TheJournal.ie he wants to ”amplify the voices of marginalised communities and to represent young people and give them a voice“.

The Labour member began the transition from woman to male three years ago, and wants to be the first transgender candidate to run for election in Ireland – with his eye on becoming a councillor in the 2019 local elections.

2. Lorna Bogue (Green Party)

img_5303-630x444 Source: TheJournal.ie

Within months of joining the Green Party, this 23-year-old college graduate was elected chair of the Young Greens and is already minded to run for the Dáil, telling TheJournal.ie recently: “I’m just kind of tired of middle-aged men pissing away my future all the time.”

Though the Green party faces a long road back from its electoral wipeout in 2011, Bogue is part of the so-called ‘New Greens’, who will be contesting elections in the years to come.

3. Claire Byrne (Green Party)

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Another ‘New Green’ is this Dublin city councillor who was elected for the first time in May of last year. Byrne has, amongst other things, produced these excellent animations of all the local election counts.

She would have been in contention to be a Dáil candidate for the party had Eamon Ryan not decided to run in Dublin Bay South, but she will certainly be among the contenders in years to come.

4. Niamh Byrne (Fine Gael)

Bi179IGU Source: Twitter

Oughterard native Niamh Byrne is Connemara councillor, who also popped up on the secret list of potential general election candidates receiving special training from Fine Gael.

The youngest councillor in her area to be elected last year, she could benefit from the gender quota rule and be on the general election ticket in Galway West next time out. Byrne is also the current deputy mayor of Galway County Council.

5. Jack Chambers (Fianna Fáil)

qES4tAye Source: Twitter

The Fingal Councillor made headlines recently when he was selected to represent Fianna Fáil in the general election in Dublin West – where the late finance minister Brian Lenihan held a seat.

He beat fellow councillor David McGuinness, who later quit the party. Chambers is based in Castleknock. He is currently studying medicine, having previously completed a degree in law and political science at Trinity College.

6. Lisa Chambers (Fianna Fáil)

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This 28-year-old barrister is a Mayo county councillor based in Castlebar and was one the youngest female candidates in the country at the last general election in 2011. Held in high regard within the party, Chambers could yet be on the ticket with sitting TD Dara Calleary at the next election.

7. John Cummins (Fine Gael)

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The 27-year-old Waterford councillor is the son of Fine Gael’s Seanad leader Maurice Cummins. But despite his youth he’s already in his second council term having served as mayor of Waterford city first time out.

The PE teacher’s family links and experience at such a young age would make him well-placed to be a future candidate for the party although he’s unlikely to be in the mix this time around. He made headlines last year after securing a court order directing Twitter to remove defamatory tweets.

8. Stephen Cunningham (Sinn Féin)

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This student of government at UCC was elected to Cork city council at the tender age of 21 last year. He still has another two years to go in college, but Cunningham topped the poll in Cork city north east in the local election.

His youthful looks were the subject of some Twitter comment during the local elections last year. But there’s no doubt his early election success means he’s well-positioned to advance within Sinn Féin in the coming years.

9. Jack Eustace (Labour)

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 16.18.28 Source: Twitter

Eustace helped to orchestrate a significant victory for the youth wing of the party at its recent conference where a motion calling for the reversal of dole cuts for under-26s was passed by delegates. As the current chair of Labour Youth, he will be one to watch in the coming years.

10. Mairead Farrell (Sinn Féin)

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This 25-year-old Galway city councillor holds a degree in economics and history from NUIG and a masters in finance from Queen’s in Belfast. On her Twitter, she describes herself as a socialist, republican and feminist. One of Sinn Féin’s rising stars.

11. Kate Feeney (Fianna Fáil)

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The Blackrock-based councillor came to national prominence last year in her high-profile battle with former minister Mary Hanafin. Feeney, the former chair of Ógra Fianna Fáil, has recently put her hat in the ring for the nomination to be the party’s Dáil candidate in Dún Laoghaire setting up another battle with Hanafin.

She is the daughter of former Fianna Fáil senator Geraldine Feeney and would herself be in contention for the Seanad if her Dáil bid doesn’t work out.

12. Gary Gannon (Independent)

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A 28-year-old councillor for north inner city Dublin, Gannon gave a widely-praised speech at the MacGill Summer School last year, arguing that young people are apathetic towards because the political culture that is “morally bankrupt”.

A strong activist on the ground, he previously helped early school leavers to get back into education and employment. Despite his obvious talent he’s never been tempted by parties, saying he would be “mortified being in the youth wing of a party”.

13. Jonathan Graham (Sinn Féin)

2rdokPru Source: Twitter

The Trinity student was running for South Dublin County Council when he was just 19 and has already had to contend with death threats since being elected. Well-regarded within the party, the Clondalkin-based councillor won’t be running in the general election this time around, but is definitely one to watch.

14. Sarah Jane Hennelly (Independent)

-U0d-ddE Source: Twitter

Hennelly stood as an independent candidate in the 2014 local election for Limerick City East. She is particularly focused on youth unemployment and plans to run in the general election. The 26-year-old, who is originally from Mayo, works as a researcher at the University of Limerick’s Medical School.

15. Jane Horgan Jones (Labour)

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A Labour councillor since being co-opted onto minister Aodhan O Riordain’s seat in 2011, the Clontarf-based criminal barrister is the daughter of former Labour senator and press ombudsman John Horgan.

Though active on the ground and one of the few Labour councillors re-elected in 2014, she is not expected to be in the mix as a candidate at the next general election, but may come into contention in future elections.

16. Frank Kennedy (Fianna Fáil)

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This Dublin city councillor is highly-rated in the party and could have been it’s general election candidate in Dublin Bay South were it not for the presence of Jim O’Callaghan.

Kennedy studied law at UCD, the University of Toulouse in France and Oxford and once interned for the late US senator Ted Kennedy. He looks well-placed to run for the party in future general elections – provided he holds onto his council seat.

17. Aoibhinn Kenny (Fine Gael)

Fine Gael National Conferences Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Enda Kenny’s daughter recently got on the prestigious Washington Ireland Programme, which counts Leo Varadkar among its alumni. She previously ran for Irish langauge officer on UCD’s student’s union and although she didn’t elected she remains active in student politics as a member of Young Fine Gael. Were the Taoiseach to retire, she would be well-placed to run for his seat, just as Kenny ran for his father’s in 1975.

18. Barry Martin (PBP)

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Martin currently represents the Balbriggan ward on Fingal County Council. The People Before Profit Alliance regularly uses social media to show the public the inner workings of council and party meetings. Of late, he’s been particularly vocal on the Dunnes Stores strike and, of course, water charges.

19. Dale McDermott (Fine Gael)

Fine Gael Minister for Finance, Michael

The former president of Young Fine Gael recently stepped down to focus on the final year of his studies. But the 22-year-old remains active in local politics having been recently elected as chairperson of the Fine Gael branch in Dublin South-West and he is a prominent in the Yes campaign for the marriage referendum. A future Dáil run cannot be ruled out.

20. John McGahon (Fine Gael)

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A first-time councillor on Louth County Council, McGahon is also a parliamentary assistant in Leinster House. With two incumbent Fine Gael TDs likely to be seeking re-election in Louth, McGahon is unlikely to be in the mix at the next election but rumour has it that he might be in contention for the Seanad.

21. Patrick McKee (Renua)

patrick-mckee-2 Source: Facebook

The Kilkenny councillor came to national prominence recently after defecting from Fianna Fáil – a party he had been with for 10 years – to join the newest party in the country, Renua.

McKee had been considering seeking the Fianna Fáil nomination for the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election, but after Bobby Aylward won that spot, he decided to join Renua and run as its candidate. His performance in May will indicated whether he stands a chance of getting elected to the Dáil in the general election.

22. Ciara McPhillips (Fine Gael) 

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McPhillips has been a Fine Gael councillor in Monaghan since 2011. She was co-opted onto the council after Heather Humphreys TD was elected to the Dáil. She studied law at UCD through the Access programme, and now works as an apprentice solicitor.

The 28-year-old recently told us she wants to see more people her age getting involved in politics as the absence of young people in any profession “can lead to inertia and a repetition of the same old ways”.

23. Emma Murphy (Fianna Fáil)

EM-Poster Source: Picasa/EmmaMurphy.ie

Murphy has one vital learning experience under her belt: losing an election. The 30-year-old unsuccessfully contested the local election in Rathfarnham, Dublin last year.

The former inter-county footballer is one of several young women that represents the ‘new face’ of Fianna Fáil, as the party tries to rebuild its image from its disastrous general election outing in 2011.

24. Eoin Neylon (Fianna Fáil)

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The current president of Ógra Fianna Fáil, the Clare native also sits on the party’s national executive. The 26-year-old has been involved with the party since his student days and is big on the grassroots being at the centre of Fianna Fáil’s renewal and revival. Definitely one to watch as a possible future election candidate.

25. Shane O’Brien (Sinn Féin)

NtrDeEsa Source: Twitter

O’Brien represents Killiney/Shankill on Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, but has bigger ambitions than that. The 29-year-old member plans to run for Sinn Fein in the general election to “help give young people a voice”.

“It is my aim to act as role model for other young people who may consider entering politics in Ireland. Young people are simply under-represented in Dáil Éireann,” he said.

26. Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Sinn Féin)

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This 26-year-0ld Cork county councillor is the Sinn Féin general election candidate in Cork South Central where the party has a fighting chance of taking a seat.

He was just 20 when he stood for his first council election in 2009, narrowly missing out. A graduate of law at UCC, Ó Laoghaire was previously the national organiser of Sinn Féin’s Youth Wing and is highly-rated within the party.

27. Cian Prendiville (AAA/Socialist Party)

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The Anti-Austerity Alliance unanimously selected Prendiville as their general election candidate for Limerick City earlier this month. As a founding member of the ‘We Won’t Pay’ campaign, he’s been behind several anti-water charge protests in Limerick.

During his time on Limerick Council, he’s been particularly vocal on issues such as housing, jobs and opposition to the property tax. A new Paul Murphy in the making.

28. Noel Rock (Fine Gael)

noel-rock Source: Facebook

This 27-year-old councillor, who works as a parliamentary assistant, was first elected to Dublin City Council last May and has been particularly savvy when it comes to getting his name in both local and national media. He’s all but certain to the party’s candidate in Dublin North West at the next election where Fine Gael does not currently have a seat.

29. Grace Tallon (Labour)

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Tallon replaced Aidan Culhane on Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in September 2011, representing the area she grew up in: Dundrum. She retained her seat in last year’s local election.

The 29-year-old music teacher was behind a campaign encouraging people to shop locally. From her experience on the council, she previously told us “it takes an awfully long time for things to happen”, adding: “We have little powers in the council but there are huge things you can do.”

30. Neil Warner (Labour)

Launch of Campaign for Labour Policies Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

This Trinity graduate came to prominence in 2012 as one of the leading members of the Campaign for Labour Policies, a group of disaffected Labour members unhappy with the party’s decisions in government.

But the 25-year-old remained with the party as others left. He was recently elected as a vice president of the Young European Socialists, Labour’s European grouping. It was the first time in over 25 years that a Labour Youth member has held such a position.

Read: Sam wants to be Ireland’s first transgender election candidate

Read: ‘I’m tired of middle-aged men pissing away my future all the time’

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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