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'I was offered class A drugs, but I was never offered the chance to volunteer'

The MacGill Summer School has been discussing the causes of young people’s apathy towards politics.

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 12.14.27 MacGill organiser Joe Mulholland, Daithí de Buitléir, Kate Feeney and Gary Gannon this morning Source: Screengrab/Donegal County Council

BROKEN PROMISES AND a lack of opportunities for young people have been cited as reasons for their apathy towards the political system, the MacGill Summer School has heard.

A session on apathy towards politics and public life heard from two recently-elected councillors and a social entrepreneur who painted a bleak picture of attitudes towards the political system among youth.

Councillors Kate Feeney and Gary Gannon and the founder of Raising and Giving (RAG) Daithí de Buitléir all identified broken promises as one of the reasons that young people do not engage.

Independent councillor Gannon said that political parties only deal in the short-term interest*.

“Too often, in this State, have political parties and individuals abused that trust by blatantly making false promises that seek only to capture the aspiration of the day to the detriment of the voter of tomorrow,” he said.

Gannon said that while young people are “not ethically, socially or civically apathetic” they exist in a political culture that is “morally bankrupt”.

“We are uncomfortable in propping up a system that is unsuited to the purpose intended,” he said.

Gannon cited the recent Cabinet reshuffle as featuring “predominantly white, middle-class, conservative men”.

He asked: “If we believe in any semblance of representative democracy then surely we must look around at our Dáìl Eireann and ask ourselves the question – for which people?”

De Buitléir argued that political apathy is a result of young people not being asked to volunteer in society.

“Without the infrastructure to mobilise students and young people is it any wonder they are being left without the skills to drive this country forward?” he said.

He criticised the government’s appointment of two Gaeltacht ministers who can’t speak fluent Irish and said politicians consistently make empty promises, adding that the political system is set up to “suck the energy and idealism out of young people”.

“I think deep down I want to believe that politics matters but the politicians just make it too hard,” he said.

In her speech Fianna Fáil councillor Feeney said that the more people who get involved in the democratic system the better it will work.

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She pointed out that nearly one in eight candidates who contested the local elections was under 35 and that collectively young candidates won twice as many first preference votes as the Labour Party.

“The challenge for us, is to get young people interested in and excited about politics,” she said.

Feeney said that automatically adding people to the electoral register when they turn 18 would remove barriers to making them more politically active.

She said that the increase in student registration fees had broken a pledge signed by former education minister Ruairí Quinn not to increase fees for third level education.

“For many of these young people, general election 2011 was their first trip to a ballot box. Broken promises like these leave people twice shy about placing their faith in politics again,” Feeney said.

She also said that political parties needed to listen more to their youth wings and added: “The ‘Class of 2014’, the young councillors who won seats last May, have a serious responsibility and a great opportunity to show that not all politicians are the same.”

*An edited version of Gary Gannon’s speech will be published on later today

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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