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Seven of #GE11's youngest candidates reflect on their run

From financial difficulties to a car crash, candidates recall their campaign experiences – and give advice for any young person considering running for the Dáil.

The #GE11 count in Castlebar, Co Mayo on 26 February 2011.
The #GE11 count in Castlebar, Co Mayo on 26 February 2011.
Image: AP Photo/Peter Morrison/PA File

ON THIS DAY last year – 26 February 2011 – the general election count was underway and these seven young candidates were anxiously awaiting news of the outcome of their #GE11 campaigns. Just one of the seven was elected to the Dáil.

One year on, here are their recollections of canvassing, their thoughts on what the government should achieve in this term, and what they would advise other young people who consider taking the plunge and running for the Dáil:

Dylan Haskins, Independent candidate in Dublin South, 22 at the time of #GE11

On the campaign:

I think I decided to do it for sure on New Year’s Eve, and from that point on it was trying to get a campaign together and a strategy and to write policies. I had two main things: running as an Independent, and also not running on local issues. I didn’t have the political structure of advisors etc to develop policy, and being on both sides of that fence for a short-term was a real challenge. But sometimes in life you push yourself, really, and you realise after that you hadn’t quite thought you could do that. I don’t think I covered enough ground [canvassing] but it was the most satisfying part of the process. Meeting people and hearing about what mattered to them and their different experiences – the amount of lives going on behind all those doors that you see every day but don’t know about in your bubble.

Advice for a young candidate:

I think running has to do with a focus. I was never under any illusion as to what an Independent could achieve within the structure of the Dáil as an outsider. That’s part of how our government is set up – the government do what they do and the opposition just throw stuff at them, there’s not much engagement or collaboration between the two of them. [Running for office] is an avenue that people should consider, but there are many other ways for people to get engaged and to get things done.

What he’s doing now:

I’m finishing my dissertation for my final year of college and I’m studying History of Art and Architecture at Trinity. It was quite difficult after the election to catch up [with college work] and I somehow passed. It’s enjoyable, it’s something totally different to the election and politics, though it’s still about the world.

On running again:

I don’t think so, but if you’d asked me two years ago if I’d be running in that election, I’d have said no way. I really enjoyed canvassing – communicating and talking to people is what I like and it’s what I want to focus on when I finish college, broadcasting and filmmaking. That December 2010 Budget really targeted the young and the vulnerable, and it pushed me into believing that a big change has to happen in the next few years. I didn’t think it would happen in one election, but the process to create an alternative has to begin – and that issue still stands. Next time is going to be really interesting. I think Labour was stupid to go in with Fine Gael and the coalition will inevitably become unpopular by the time the next election comes, though I don’t think Fianna Fáil is going to rebound by then. So the only real option left is Sinn Féin. There’s a whole generation in there who wasn’t in for the dodgy stuff so they [SF] do become valid and legitimate in some way – it’s a different generation from the violence. For me, it’s worrying that SF is the only viable alternative.

One thing he’d like to see this government do while in office:

I think there was a huge amount of talk [during the election campaigns] about political reform and transparency – buzzwords during the election. And I found it quite difficult to make the point to people that I meant it. To demonstrate it in the campaign, we published accounts to show that I would have done that in office. I’d like to see the coalition acting on that and the transparency of government. People feel very alienated from government if it’s not really transparent for them. If [politics] is not engaging a large number of people, there’s something wrong with it.

Darcy Lonergan, Green Party candidate in Cavan-Monaghan, 21 at the time of #GE11

On the campaign:

It was a very difficult election for the Greens. I didn’t get it as bad as everyone else, but it was a pretty negative campaign experience. But since we did it and people have realised the good things we did in government, I don’t think they’ve ‘forgiven’ us but they’re more willing to listen to us now then they were at the time [of the election]. I think Labour’s getting treated pretty badly this time.

Advice for a young candidate:

I’d definitely recommend a young person runs for election. You’re never going to get experience like that in your life. I often got people saying ‘you’re too young’, but I said that you have to get the chance to earn that experience.

What she’s doing now:

I’m on the Carrickmacross Town Council in Co Monaghan, and I’m a masters student at Queens University studying sustainability. I’m still with the Green Party and have gotten more political in the meantime. I’m on the party’s National Executive Committee and I’m an international officer for the Young Greens. The Green Party is an international party and my role involves keeping up to date with what’s going on with the Greens in other countries and informing the other young party members about that.

On running again:

I honestly don’t know if I’d run again. I’ve no regrets as I learned more in two weeks [campaigning] than in studying politics in college. It gave me practical experience and I’m much more confident now, I don’t mind going on the radio and doing interviews whereas before I’d have been nervous. I don’t know if I’ll run again – it depends on what I’m doing. It also depends on how much stress I’d be willing to put myself under!

One thing she’d like to see this government do while in office:

I’d like to see more efficient, cheaper transport in rural areas. And I mean transport which moves away from fossil fuels and moves towards electric systems like electric trains. But I think this government has already shown that they’re not prioritising environmental issues.

Derek Nolan, Labour candidate in Galway West, 26 at time of #GE11

On the campaign:

It was extremely exciting and a lot of hard work – it was exhausting. I was a councillor so I’d run a campaign before, though Galway West is a huge constituency and it was a mammoth task getting around. I enjoyed it in both a personal sense and a political sense. People showed how hurt and angry they were. Some were angry at the previous government, while others were disenchanted with the political system and their anger went beyond any one particular party.

The party support [for the election campaign] is invaluable. I was nominated by my party to run and the party members in Galway West. I wouldn’t have been elected [to the Dáil] without them and their advice and their effort. There is a difference between running as an independent and a party member. When you’re independent, you’re representing yourself. There’s a bigger responsibility, I think, in running for the party because you’re representing both yourself and the party.

Advice for a young candidate:

Politics means something different to everybody. If someone is passionate and really interested, then they just need to get to work at it and put themselves forward. The country needs ambitious people driven by good ideas – it’s vitally important. And if they have the drive and energy and the good intention, then they need to go for it. I never defined myself by my age, it wasn’t a reason why I should or shouldn’t get a nomination. That’s what people need to do – don’t let age be a barrier.

What he’s doing now:

A lot of the first number of months was spent settling in and figuring out how things worked. There’s a number of parts to the job: firstly, working locally and staying on top of the issues be it schools or matters of administration. A second part is in the Dáil, working on pieces of legislation that I’m particularly interested in. I’m on the Public Accounts Committee which takes up a good bit of my time. Managing your diary takes a lot of work.

On running again:

At the moment, yes, I will run again. Though I’m sure it will be harder next time!

One thing he’d like to see this government do while in office:

I really think that [Minister of State at the Dept of Health] Roisin Shorthall’s work on primary care to bring in free GP care for everybody is hugely important. If the government does that alone it will be an enormous success and it would be a real change in the provision of healthcare in this country.

Padraig O’Sullivan, Independent candidate in Cork North Central, 26 at time of #GE11

On the campaign:

It was very difficult to run and the main difficulty was financial. I personally spend €9,500. I raised about €6,500, but it was a major drain. And the manpower involved was an issue as well. We had only about 15 people who worked on the campaign on a regular basis. I used to be a member of Fianna Fáil, but I left them because I became disillusioned over the IMF and the bailout. I had no intention of running with them. But I wouldn’t run again as an independent – being with a party would be preferable. Even just for canvassing, Labour or Fianna Fáil had about 10 to 15 people with them out on the streets and we’d have about four; it’s an advantage [to be with a party].

Advice for a young candidate:

If they really wanted to get involved, I’d encourage them to get involved, but it’s a very big ask. I personally wouldn’t recommend it unless their heart was really set on it. It’s a lot more demanding than I originally thought.

What he’s doing now:

I’m a qualified secondary school teacher, History, and I’m still teaching. I’m also finishing my Irish degree, I’ll have until Christmas this year to finish it, and I’m studying that in NUIG and UCC.

On running again:

I saw the general election as a stepping stone; I went with the intention of later running for the council in a few year’s time and I reached my target of 1,000 votes. I’m glad that I achieved my target and I do plan on running for the council election [in the Blarney electoral area]. I’m also involved with community associations and local groups. I have had one or two approaches from parties to run for them for the council.

One thing he’d like to see this government do while in office:

I think [campaign] posters should be banned outright because they’re a menace from every point of view – environmental, definitely, and also financial. I was quoted €20 per poster, compare than with a party probably getting them for €2 or €3. It definitely favours the larger parties.

Cian Prendiville, Socialist Party candidate in Limerick City, 21 at the time of #GE11

On the campaign:

The campaign was an excellent experience, it was the Socialist Party’s first time standing in Limerick City and it really put a radical left-wing alternative on the map in Limerick for the first time in a long time. Personally, I found it very interesting, to get to talk to so many people, discuss the crisis and the alternative with thousands of people.

Advice for a young candidate:

Well, to be honest, it’d depend. If a young FF, FG or Labour politician came to ask me for advice, I’d simply tell them to leave their parties as they are destroying this country and our future. I don’t really have time for making chit-chat with the establishment politicians, I didn’t do it during the election when we’d see each other and various events, and I won’t start now. It’s a cosy club, and you’re best staying out.

If a young, left-minded person approached me and said they were thinking of standing, for a genuine left group, or as an independent, I’d encourage them to do so. My advice would be to organise the campaign as systematically as possible. Have a public launch, get friends, family, like-minded people to all come along to an event where [you] can explain your plans, and give everyone the energy for the campaign. And right throughout the campaign, keep talking to all the activists, to keep them involved and enthusiastic.

What he’s doing now:

I am currently very much involved in the fight against the new Household and Septic Tank taxes, helping to build mass non-registration and non-payment of these unjust, gateway taxes. I am still an active member and organiser with the Socialist Party, and the United Left Alliance.

On running again:

Yes, I would be willing to stand again. I think a lot of people voted for change in the last election, but have been bitterly disappointed by the new government implementing the same cutbacks, bailouts and austerity measures as the last lot. I see it every day in the campaign against the household tax – people who voted for Labour or Fine Gael now disgusted with their antics. I think we need a real political alternative in this country, that stands up and fights in the interest of the millions, not the millionaires, and I will do everything I can to help build that alternative.

One thing he’d like to see this government do while in office:

I’d like to see them burn the bondholders and repudiate the debt – that is, refuse to pay one more cent to the bankers and speculators who caused this crisis. That could remove the shackle of unmanagable debt from the economy, and free money up for mass investment in public works etc to create decent jobs. Unfortunately, I don’t believe they are going to [do] anything good, at least not anything of real significance. If we want to see decent policies implemented, we’ll have to fight for them ourselves.

Liam Quinn, Fine Gael candidate in Laois-Offaly, 23 at the time of #GE11

On the campaign:

Well, I suppose it was my first general election campaign. I’d fought a local election in 2009, but everything about the general election was relatively new in that sense. It was very different from the local campaign. I didn’t find people overly-angry, but they were very serious and you had to know your polices and your party policies very well because people were asking very detailed and well-researched questions about healthcare, education and the budget.

You could count the number of bad canvassing experiences that I had on one hand. I was a new candidate, so that might have changed the situation – people maybe didn’t want to tar everyone with the same brush. People were very open and honest and as long as you had done your homework and were able to answer their questions then you got on fine. I thought people were more engaged in this election than would have been the case before and I found they had a definite grasp of the [economic] situation.

Advice for a young candidate:

First of all you have to have that raw hungry. I’d describe it as being a ‘political animal’. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I’m thinking about is what I can do in the council, the people that I’m meeting that day, the work I’m going to get done, the meetings I’m going to attend. You have to have that raw hungry. If someone’s looking to run in elections, I’d advise them to get out there and get involved in campaigns and meet people. If you work hard for the community, they’ll support you.

What he’s doing now:

I’m a member of Offaly County Council and I’m on a number of different committees – the economic and planning committee, the rural water monitoring committee, the VEC. I’m also on voluntary committees around home.

On running again:

I haven’t ruled anything in or out yet. It took me the best part of a year to wind back down after the election, but if the time was right and the opportunity arose I’d be interested. We don’t know what’s going to happen with the redrawing of the constituency, so that could have a big influence on my decision.

One thing he’d like to see this government do while in office:

We can tweak budgets and get decisions right and wrong about expenditure, but if the government can go back to people at the end of this programme and say ‘we implemented a tough budget, but at the end of it we’re done with the IMF and we’re borrowing funds through international markets at a sustainable rate’, then I think that would be a very good thing and something people would be very happy to hear.

Kathryn Reilly, Sinn Féin candidate in Cavan-Monaghan, 22 at time of #GE11

On the campaign:

I think the best way to describe the campaign is ‘intense’. It was three weeks of intense campaigning and canvassing; you’d be in a different place in the morning, at lunch, in the afternoon and in the evening. I actually ended up crashing my car during the campaign. My brother brought it home and I went on canvassing. You couldn’t doubt the party support, between party structures in Cavan and Caoimhghín’s support as well. I went from having a very low profile in this constituency to having my face on posters, couple with any media opportunities that were available. The party was really helpful in finding me those opportunities.

People were very aware of the issues and very informed, they were asking questions about the bigger issues and not just local things. I think from a Sinn Féin point of view, we’re very fortunate that the political situation at the time was very favourable towards us so I was getting grilled on economic matters, whereas in a tradition election it would be more stuff from the past, the legacies. I noticed that more in the presidential election – it was a completely different kind of election.

Advice for a young candidate:

I’d definitely encourage them to run – if you’re into the issues and you have a position. It was a great experience. I know for example that being in the party was a lot of help, so it could depend on whether a young person had the party behind them [to run as a party candidate] because they could be fighting battles and not just one on the campaign. I think it’s a challenge worth taking up, and I think there’s an appetite among the public for a young, educated and well-informed candidate. And I think people are drifting away from party politics.

What she’s doing now:

I’m in the Seanad now and I’m the party spokesperson on EU affairs, which is one thing that you wouldn’t hear about as much because i’m a Senator and not in the Dáil. But i am an active member of the European affairs committee, so I’m hammering away at the EU affairs nationally. I’m also doing some things around Cavan locally.

On running again:

I hope I’d run again; we’ll see what the next few years bring with the Seanad abolition and that. My profile is getting a lot better in Cavan and Monaghan and hopefully when I put my name forward it would be accepted [by the party].

One thing she’d like to see this government do while in office:

I’d like to see a concerted action plan for youth unemployment and emigration. The government jobs plan only mentioned young people once. When you consider one in three young people is unemployed and emigrating, this is a big problem especially when they’re the ones with the skills and education that are needed here. We have to wonder why is there stuch a pull to Australia when we need those skills here, engineering and planning.

Why would a twentysomething run for the Dail? >

Phrases we haven’t heard since the general election… >

See more from TheJournal.ie’s One Year On series >

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