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Young people are powerful. Let's harness our newfound voting spirit to change Ireland.

The number who recently registered to vote was enough to elect six TDs…. There’s a new politicised generation that politicians must pay heed to.

Eoin Neylon

LAST SUNDAY MORNING we woke up in a country that had affirmed to the world what it means to be a modern republic. Acceptance was the word of the day as Yes votes streamed in from almost every constituency in Ireland. Today we are a beckon of hope for LGTB people around the world as to what they can achieve with the fraternal support of their compatriots, the very essence of republicanism.

The talk of the campaign in its aftermath has undoubtedly been the youth vote and political engagement of my generation. There is no doubt that young people, more than most groups, passed the marriage equality referendum.

We must tackle inequality across our society 

The reasons this is true have been long discussed but there is one point that has been missed in all this. The number of, predominately young, people who joined the supplementary register prior to the referendum is enough to elect six TDs on their own. That is enough to make the body politic stand up and take notice. There’s a new politicised generation that politicians must pay heed to. What we need to do now is to keep up the voting habit and demand the changes we wish to see in this new modern Ireland we helped being about last weekend, and that we are shaping in other sectors like the business world.

There are many things we demand to see is Irish political life. Political reform to modernise our country’s civic infrastructure is a must, but the pace of change has been far too slow. Movement on youth unemployment has been almost non-existent in large parts of the country. And after achieving marriage equality, we must also tackle the other inequalities in our society. The most notable of these is gender inequality that still sees a tiny percentage of women holding political office and senior positions in large business corporations. The gender pay gap should be a political priority but has remained ignored. If these issues are to be tackled, we need young people to drive that change.

Policy filters from youth conferences to the cabinet table

When I first got involved in politics, marriage equality wasn’t even on the radar. It was the work of various party youth wings that forced their respective parties to adopt the policy and drove the campaign when it came to pushing it up the agenda. Within Fianna Fáil, it was a motion from Clare Ógra to the 2012 Ard Fheis that made it party policy, for instance.

Social change has always required a politically active youth. Over the past decade I’ve seen policies on environmental and energy policy as well as social policy filter from youth conferences to the cabinet table.

All too often the work of political youth wings and organisations goes unnoticed until it becomes Government policy. However, it really is a great way to have your voice heard, to get your ideas put into practise. Personally I’ve had great experience of this. In the early days of 2013, unhappy at my party’s support for Seanad abolition, I set out to write a reform paper that would see a democratic, effective Upper House with real powers.

From having this supported at the Ógra conference, the then-Ógra Central Officer Board brought it to the Ard Fheis. It was unanimously supported and forced a change in party policy. In total, a complete reversal of a party position in just two months from when I first put pen to paper. As we know now, Fianna Fáil was the only party to oppose that referendum and there was a distinct feeling that I was able to play some small role when the Irish people chose reform over abolition.

Get involved – change policies, share your views, run yourself

What I would say to my peers, who have seen just what they can achieve when they engage in the political process, is: get involved. Find a party that best represents your ideals. If there’s some policies you don’t like within it, change them. If there’s no one out there that represents your views, run yourself. The body politic needs new blood and new ideas.

I’m excited to see some of my Ógra colleagues doing just that and representing their communities across the country with distinction. In fact, if Ógra was a standalone political party we’d be the 5th largest in local government in the country after last year’s local elections. I would hope that several of these local councillors will be TDs after the next election. Now is the best time for young people to get involved in politics. After the marriage equality referendum parties now know that our voice is stronger than ever before.

After more than a decade involved, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You’d be surprised as to how welcome your thoughts and ideas will be and the influence you can have. There’s no point pontificating in your sitting room. Bring your passion and your voice into the meeting rooms. You never know just where they – and you – can end up.

Eoin Neylon (29) is the President of Ógra Fianna Fáil and a member of the Fianna Fáil National Executive. Ógra is the youth wing of Fianna Fáil and is open to people aged between 16 and 30. More information can be found at www.ogra.ie.

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Eoin Neylon

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