Millenials and Celtic Tiger cubs aren't taken seriously as people, never mind as voters

Patronising stunts aside, my generation is simply not represented in the political sphere, writes Anna O’Rourke.

STUDENTS. WE DON’T have the best reputation, do we?

At best we’re characterised as lazy or indulgent, at worst we’re binge-drinking, drug-ingesting spoiled sods hell-bent on siphoning as much cash out of our parents as possible before graduating.

Yes, mine is a generation that grew up in a time of holy communions with bouncy castles, holidays ”out foreign”, telly with more than two channels, and when back-to-school ads would induce anxiety in kids, not adults.

We’ve seen our parents struggle 

But we’ve become the generation to come of age watching our parents struggle with USC and shrunken wages, seeing our hometowns flounder and fall behind, and waving off older brothers and sisters taking off to the UK, Australia and Canada, having learned about emigration at school as something from history.

shutterstock_285646211 Shutterstock / Alicia Chelini Shutterstock / Alicia Chelini / Alicia Chelini

We also know how important social concerns like suicide, homelessness and LGBT and women’s rights are for society as a whole, and have played a role in galvanising movements on these issues.

In short, we grew up lucky, more so than any generation of children this country has ever seen, but we understand what it means to have stability disappear on us and the communities we live in.

Students lining up to register 

It’s great to see that, once again, students are lining up outside the country’s Garda stations to register to vote, this time ahead of the upcoming general election.

Tweet by @USI USI / Twitter USI / Twitter / Twitter

It’s a far cry from Irish elections of the past.

Only 70% of people between 18 and 25 were registered to vote during the 2014 local and European elections, with just 54% turning out.

This means that just 37.8%, a little over a third, of those in that age bracket in Ireland felt strongly enough to bother voting.

Of non-voters under 25, 28% said they had no interest in politics, while 15% said they had lost trust in politics.

People my age simply didn’t think that they could effect change, or were ‘over’ politics at the very time that their voice was deemed old enough to be counted.

Voting was something Mum and Dad did, making decisions about things that we couldn’t possibly influence. This feeling of apathy seemed to evaporate in the run-up to last year’s marriage referendum.

shutterstock_280211102 Shutterstock / Mr. Sergey Olegovich Shutterstock / Mr. Sergey Olegovich / Mr. Sergey Olegovich

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) registered over 27,000 new voters in 2015, as we filtered our Facebook profile photos with rainbow colours and checked into polling stations online on the day of voting, revelling in both the novelty and importance of what we were doing.

Voting for marriage equality 

It has to be said that the ‘Yes’ result might have been a lot closer had Ireland’s young people not turned out in favour of equality.

For the first time in a long time, young voices mattered, and it felt good to be a part of something. The hoards scrambling to register this year further proves that we want to be heard.

It’s time that we were taken seriously, and that the issues that matter to us, like college fees, decent graduate jobs and the cost of living, were addressed.

The Taoiseach took to Twitter to announce the election, a move that signifies that, on some level, he wants to be down with the kids.

Patronising stunts aside, however, my generation is simply not represented in the political sphere.

The age profile of our Dáil tells us a lot about why the concerns of young people are not being brought to the table.

According to one 2014 study, people between 15 and 24 years make up almost 12% of the population.

Allowing for the 15-17 year olds who cannot vote, that is still a sizeable chunk of the population.

Irish general election PA Wire / Press Association Images PA Wire / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

The average age in the Dáil

However, the average age of the last Dáil was 48.5 years and of the last government was 56.5, while just 18% of the candidates put forward by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour in the last general election were between the ages of 21 and 35.

As it stands there are just two TDs in their 20s , Helen McEntee and Simon Harris, both of Fine Gael and both currently 29 years old.

While the gender quotas in place for the next election have been contentious, a similar age-based one would surely make representation a lot fairer for young people.

As previously mentioned, people my age are often seen as spoiled. Millenials or Celtic Tiger cubs, call us what you want, we have it soft and are not worth taking seriously as people, not to mind as voters.

But, rather than crave the excess of the boom times, we want to believe that we can just have some certainty again as we move out into the world.

Stroll around any school or college in the country and you’ll see that we know the value of hard work. I’m sat typing this in my university’s library, watching fellow students write essays and presentations, read up on everything from food science to finance, and otherwise plough through mountains of work to get closer to their degree.

Elsewhere young people are upskilling through apprenticeships and government employment schemes, running family farms and businesses, and working to save money to put themselves through education.

It would be great for all of us to know that these efforts are going somewhere and that we can have a future to look forward to.

Short-term thinking has exposed previous governments’ weaknesses and crippled this country, but by engaging my generation, politicians can ensure that they’re focusing on more than just the next few years, or even the next three weeks.

Our Dáil needs new blood and to target personal and social issues for young people if they wish to secure a sustainable recovery for Ireland.

For years young people have been criticised for our apathy towards politics, but that disinterest has come from both sides.

Well, we’re here now and may just be about to vote in our droves. Give us something worth voting for. (And for God’s sake, don’t just call to the door and ask if our parents are home.)

Anna O’Rourke is a final year journalism student at the University of Limerick.

Read: ‘There’s a reason no Fine Gael government has ever been re-elected’ – former minister>

As it happened: The final Leaders’ Debate of the 2016 general election>

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