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Column: Young people want to vote so cut the rhetoric...

Niall Morahan says his voluntary organisation TellUsWhy.ie is trying to sift through the sectarianism and baggage of Irish politics – and inform young voters of the real facts and issues.

Image: Mike Gifford via Flickr.com

THEY SAY THAT a day is a long time in politics. However, for all of my 21 years, politics in Ireland has moved very slowly. GE 2011 represented, by all accounts, a large upheaval in Irish politics – but it was a long time coming. Fianna Fáil had held power for well over a decade. Major cracks had been showing in their Government for years. Enda Kenny was first elected to the Dáil in 1975. Politics in Ireland moves very slowly.

Politics in Ireland is also very sectarian. More so than in any other country, votes are cast along family lines, and policies are ignored. The crumbling of traditional grassroots-up political structures and their replacement with the mass media has not helped with this either. Despite the fact that many households in Ireland today do not have a relationship with their local TD and would not know where to go to ask a favour, studies consistently show that they more likely to consider themselves “A Fine Gael family”, or people who “Always vote Labour”, than to go in-depth on policy choices when asked about how they vote. Media campaigns play to this, using meaningless slogans and rhetoric to make the people who are already voting for them feel better about their choice.

This also ensures that when a young person does elect to try to become informed about politics, it is difficult for them to get past this rhetoric to the hard facts which they need, to the point where they become discouraged and lapse back into not-voting because ‘They’re all the same’, or voting for who their parents always vote for. Which serves the purposes of the politicians – a demographic that they do not have to worry about.

This is true, not just of young people, but also of the large body of older non-voters who reside on this island. With all of these people not casting or not thinking about their votes, those who have worked extremely hard, cut through the rhetoric and made an informed voting choice are left in the minority, making their votes relatively insignificant and encouraging them to be lazy next time. Furthermore, this results in an opaque politics in which, it seems, colossal crises can brew for years before exploding out into the public sphere.

Politics in Ireland is going to have to be a lot faster. It is going to have to be a lot more efficient. And it is going to have to become a lot more transparent.

Young people in Ireland have a toolkit for cutting edge communication

The Irish people, particularly young people, will need to be much more involved. We will need to be innovative, interested, resourceful and energetic. More than anything else, we will need to be connected.

Fortunately, new developments make this fully possible now, where before it may not have been. With the Arab Spring we have seen what modern technology and social media can do for political change. Unbeknownst to most of them, young people in Ireland today all have a fully functional and practiced toolkit for cutting edge communication, developed over years of use of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and other similar sites.

Also, in 2011, social entrepreneurship is entering into its prime, with ever more innovative social initiatives touching lives all over the world. In Ireland, Ashoka Ireland and Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (see their new initiative Wave Change for young social entrepreneurs)  support people who want to work for change, and these people are emerging from all over the place to fight for this change. People like Dylan Haskins, who ran an independent campaign for office during the last general election, and who is now fighting to remove the bureaucracy around unused buildings which stops so much creative activity dead. Haskins is an example of someone with passion who is doing something to change the world, but he could do none of it without the network of people who support him in all of this, and he would be considerably stilted in what he could achieve without use of the internet and social media.

Another such person is Daniel Philbin Bowman, who founded TellUsWhy.ie on a shoestring in the run-up to the last General Election. Identifying the largest obstacle to making an informed decision about Irish politics as the mountain of rhetoric in candidates’ manifestoes, he created a site which would provide relevant, comparable and objective information on candidates’ in a format which is easy to use and understand. The idea is that people can spend a short time on the site and become informed extremely quickly by bypassing all of the slogans and the buzzwords.

It’s one step in the direction of a politics for Ireland which is fast, efficient and transparent

For the presidential election, TellUsWhy.ie has asked each of the candidates six questions, trying to get to the core of what kind of Presidency they stand for, as well as their positions on issues such as the secularisation of Ireland, balancing human rights issues with forging trade links abroad. Candidates are asked to give one personal experience or achievement which they feel qualifies them for the post, and are asked to name Ireland’s greatest contribution to the world. The questions are identical for all of the candidates and answers are limited to 250 words.

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At TellUsWhy.ie, the feeling is that this represents one step in the direction of a politics for Ireland which is fast, efficient and transparent. It is now up to you.

Become involved, become informed, and become connected by joining the debate on the TellUsWhy site and on our Twitter, by giving feedback at info@telluswhy.ie, and by spreading this message to as many people as possible. This time is a window of change in Irish politics. On 27 October, when a nation chooses one individual to represent it for the next seven years, a day could be a long time for Irish politics. Let’s make it a good day.

And it goes further still. The next time you see something that needs to be changed, get frustrated with the status quo, or just see room for improvement, do something about it. Talk to Ashoka and Social Entrepreneurs Ireland. In fact, talk to everyone around you. You will be surprised at how many people agree and want to help, and amazed at the things that can be done.

Niall Morahan is managing director of TellUsWhy.ie.

Questions for the Presidential candidates>

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Niall Morahan

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