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Pictured, Cllr Cathal Crowe (credit Gary Collins)

Following the Killaloe FF selection convention, Liam Wiley remarked that Fianna Fáil in Clare were in trouble when it comes to the promotion and recruitment of youth within its ranks, writes Eoin Neylon. Even though there are several talented young members across the county, largely, Wiley has a good point. That said, it’s not just Fianna Fáil that seemingly has an issue with youth in Clare. With Mark Nestor and Mike Taylor throwing their names in the hat for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael respectively, along with the Soc Dems running 2 more candidates in their 20’s in the Banner, there will be some youth on the local election ballot papers in Clare next May. That said, they’re all up against tall odds to win election to the county council.

Fianna Fáil’s average age of local representative is the oldest of all parties in Clare. Those from the Independent ranks are also of a similar vintage, on average. Where as this vital experience is indeed needed in all levels of Government, there must be a balance of new ideas and representation of all members of society, including Clare’s younger cohort. In fact, in this writer’s entire lifetime (since 1986), there have only been two local authority candidates successfully elected while in their 20’s. These were namely Joe Carey of Fine Gael and Cathal Crowe of Fianna Fáil. As an electorate, we tend to be very poor at putting our faith in younger candidates. As a result, issues that tend to matter more to the younger generation don’t get the attention they should.

This is not a phenomenon that is restricted to Clare, nor to local authority elections. We see it in Dáil and Seanad elections too on an even greater scale. It’s an interesting exercise to examine the Seanad election results in 2016 and note how younger candidates fared. Except for only one of the Fine Gael candidates, again, no one under 30 was elected in any panel in which there was realistic competition. SF’s Fintan Warfield may have been elected the youngest Senator almost 3 years ago but given SF’s military control of their Seanad strategy it means that being selected by SF guarantees election as none of their members are permitted to seek outside nominations. The party sanctioning only the minimum number of members that will win seats, snuffs out all real competition, removing any competition. All the 7 Ógra Fianna Fáil candidates failed to even come close to being elected despite all having good political experience. Similarly, Independent candidates of a younger vintage were far off the pace. And why would other sitting Councillors and Oireachtas members vote for younger candidates when their electorate regularly spurn the same demographic?

As I wrote in pervious articles, our lack of female representation in Clare has been a source of ongoing shame for us as a county but the same can be said of our attitude to young people in politics. Having travelled extensively around Europe, meeting young politicians in various countries, one thing struck me. On the continent, youth wings and groups are paid far more heed by the media and general public than they are here. As head of the largest youth political movement on the island of Ireland for two terms, I was only interviewed on national media twice, both times on radio. The first was on Raidio na Gealtachta about a press release on bank lending. The second was on a panel discussing the marriage equality referendum on RTÉ Radio 1. I was acutely aware that none of the other party youth wing heads in those two years were invited to do anything similar. Is it any wonder then that the wider electorate doesn’t have an appreciation for what young people in politics can bring to public life when they’re denied a voice in most media circles?

Further still none of the party youth wings get any TV exposure. All the while, on the continent, youth wing heads debate ahead of elections, they are invited on to express their opinions on matters of policy both within their party and of others, and, to discuss and dissect election results. The only youth group that gets similar media coverage here is the Union of Students in Ireland. Although they do good work, they do only represent a narrow political outlook that doesn’t cover the political spectrum of opinions that young people hold.

Local media though has seen some hope in this regard. Although limited still, there at least is some coverage for youth groups and political wings and the message they hope to convey. It must be accepted by the wider electorate, however, that if they wish to really change things, it’s only by exercising their votes that they can make a difference. With apparently more people than ever disillusioned and dissatisfied with the body politic, it’s time we did something different. Perhaps electing a more balanced range of representatives, that reflects our society, is the correct way to shake things up. If it’s going to start anywhere, local government elections are the place to do it.

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