Youth involvement in politics was discussed at a recent event organised by Young Fine Gael. Minister Simon Harris, Olivia Mitchell TD and Councillors Brian Murphy and Neale Richmond participated in a lively debate in which youth activism was encouraged and discussed in an open platform.
Although the politicians had the relatively easy job of preaching to the YFG choir, the discussion was varied and open, at times giving us an insight into what direction this government plans to steer the country in the run up to the election in 2016.
That being said, it wasn’t clear whether this sense of foreboding was directed towards his fellow colleagues or the young people who would be inevitably involved in campaigns all over the country.
Harris himself spoke on his experience in government, from his election three years ago to becoming the youngest Junior Minister in this government at the age of twenty-seven. He praised the economic growth which has become evident in recent weeks, as his Department of Finance prepares to deliver the 2015 budget in October.
His message was to the young audience was clear: if you have an opinion, there is room for involvement in politics. This was echoed by Councillors Neale Richmond and Brian Murphy, who discussed how they came into politics, the threat of cynicism and indeed the varying highs and lows of political life.
The discussion at times devolved into a campaign speech, with the achievements of the government loudly touted and regret expressed for the hard decisions that were made at the expense of campaign pledges. Other political parties’ policies were mocked, sometimes openly, and the proposed flirtation with Fianna Fáil discouraged strongly.
This, of course, can be understood as most of the participants came from the party faithful and the youth wing of the party.
I asked how Fine Gael’s policies would be presented to a young voter without party affiliation in today’s Ireland and how it deviated from the traditional civil war politics which many of us have grown up with. Murphy seemed to avoid the question and instead discussed civil war politics and how the young voter should not be swayed by family affiliation. Harris, however, presented core ideas including opportunity for all, reward for work, and protection of society while ensuring that the safety net did not turn into a handout.
Harris reiterated, also, that 2016 represented a real opportunity for young people to become involved in what will be, no doubt, a monumental moment in Irish politics, especially for the younger voter.
Overall, the councillors and Teachtaí Dála offered an interesting view on what is involved in a public life and encouraged all attending to trust Fine Gael, to paraphrase their own analogy, “to take the keys from the drunk driver” and lead this country in the next parliament.