There is left-wing voice missing from elected representatives of Clare County Council and Chris Kirwan believes he can be that voice while also speaking up and standing out for the youngest generation of voters.
A final year law student at NUIG, Chris is running in the Ennis Municipal District for The Social Democrats as the party aims to win a seat on Clare County Council for the first time in its history. He joined the party after campaigning in the marriage equality referendum. “I think they represented a real opportunity for political change, even from a very young age I didn’t feel I was properly represented and when the Social Democrats started I was fortunate enough to be involved with the pre-launch stuff and I got to know what they were about and we’ve never had a Social Democratic government in this country and so that’s why I got involved to build that progressive change that we need”.
For the twenty four year old the potential of becoming a councillor is viewed as an entry level job into politics. “For my generation there’s a real responsibility to stand up and speak out, I have the opportunity and the interest so I’m going to take it, what I’ll say to people is ‘I’m asking for an entry level job as a political representative so I will do my absolute utmost to represent you’. I don’t have big money or a big political organisation so I will absolutely be responsive to what the voters want and need, I’ll be more valuable to their pressure to put it bluntly”.
During his time in NUIG, he was President of the debating society, Kirwan is now putting forward the argument for a left-wing voice in the Council Chamber. “There is an urgent need for a progressive left-wing voice and that’s lacking you can see that in the makeup of the Council since the decimation of Labour and that’s not going to return. It’s really urgent that you get young people that are progressive economically and socially who can make the change necessary, the Social Democrats represent the best vehicle and platform for bringing the change to Ennis and Clare that we need for our town. The councillors of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil I have nothing against them but they can talk as much as they like about action on housing and climate change but it’s just not credible, they’re not ideologically capable their parties of taking the necessary action and so I think it is important to have a proper opposition voice on the Council, we have two Independents and they’re great people but it’s dominated overwhelmingly by essentially two Government parties and that needs to change”.
Housing, mental health and climate change are his key themes as he prepares to launch into canvassing across the EMD. “The rents that some of my friends are paying are eye-watering, I’m living with a guy who has no hope of ever buying a house, he’s at that age where he hasn’t the access to the credit. It’s bad for people my age now when we’re renting but it’s only going to get exasperated as we age, that’s why I feel we need to take action and people my age need to say we’re not accepting this for the next ten to twenty years, we don’t want to end up like this, we don’t want our children to end up living like this. My experience of the housing shortage is the same as young people and parents up and down this country, it doesn’t allow for access to the opportunities that should be there”.
It was during his time in St Flannans that Chris first experienced friends dealing with mental health issues. “I’ve had many friends who if they could even get access to mental health services it was for an extremely limited period of time unless they were extremely suicidal, that allows for things such as depression and anxiety to fester with these people at a terrible personal cost. I’ve had a dozen and a half friends who have faced mental health problems and there isn’t the support there, we need to be really upfront and speak about it as often as possible. In secondary school you don’t pick up on it. I had friends mention having had depression at that age but you don’t really grasp the scale of it or how important it is until you get older or at least I didn’t. I first encountered it in school but I didn’t grasp the severity of the issue”.
Before starting college, Chris lined out as a full-back and winger for Ennis RFC, instead of dodging tackles his biggest challenge will be balancing his last semester in Galway and an election campaign. “It’s a question of time management and focus, it’s not something I had so much when I was younger but it’s just a case of splitting your time. I know I’m going to canvass five or six times a week in the evening and I know that I’ve free time in the morning and I can leaflet drop at lunch, it’s just a question of properly managing my time and it will be abundantly clear to people on the ground that we’re managing it, essentially at some point they will be telling me to go away because I’ve knocked on their door so much, time management, focus and discipline”.
Now an active member of the Clare jiu jitsu academy, he gave his view on why Cathal Crowe has remained the youngest elected representative on Clare County Council since 2004. “First of all, politics takes up so much and many people find it overwhelming and hard to engage with. The second thing is historically because it’s not very easy to get a foothold in internal party politics and presents a barrier to young people and so they can spend their decade or two working in the young wing of the party and they might get a shot in the convention and then there will be five people that have worked in the party for two decades who beat them to the punch. The third one is people don’t see it as an option or something they would do, I know plenty of young men and women that just don’t even consider it as something they can get involved in because they see it as ultimately corrupt process which is sad to say but that’s how many people see it”.