Contributing writer Aine Feeney discusses repetitious voting patterns of the Irish public along with the need for a growth in active youth participation in politics
With the recent news of West Cork TD Holly Cairns taking over the leadership of the Social Democrats, a wave of optimism has rippled through Irish political circles. At just 33 years of age, Cairns is the youngest person to lead a political party in Ireland. In her first Dáil speech as party leader, she addressed the Taoiseach with a sobering reminder of the state of the country’s housing crisis:
“I am a member of the first generation who will be worse off than our parents.”
The Irish Times described Cairns as a ‘breath of fresh air for the Soc Dems’ and according to the Sunday Independent’s Think Poll, support for the party has almost doubled, with support for Sinn Féin remaining at the top of the charts, now standing at 29%. Evidently, a tide is turning in Irish politics as the public begins to realise that the continuous re-election of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has done more harm than good. Although the two parties have buried the Civil War hatchet and have struck up a historical coalition, voter faith is clearly dwindling and the general consensus is that they both have had more than their fair share of time in power.
With a general election due to come up in 2025, left-leaning parties may finally have their chance to initiate a seismic shift in Ireland’s political landscape. However, one thing stands in their way – voter turnout. In the 2020 general election, overall turnout was 62.9%, down 2.2% on the 2016 election. Interestingly, voter turnout was lowest in urban areas, with constituencies like Dublin Central, Dublin Bay South, and Dublin South Central all recording figures in the low fifties. This is concerning, given that Dublin’s urban population accounts for 28.5% of the country’s total population and urban areas of Cork, Galway and Dublin have traditionally been home to a younger demographic. Since 2016, the National Youth Council of Ireland have been campaigning to lower Ireland’s minimum voting age to 16. There is clearly an appetite to increase youth participation in politics.
Voter turnout among younger age brackets has been steadily increasing in recent years, with concentrated efforts made to increase youth participation in politics. In the weeks leading up to the 2020 general election, UCC Students Union held a voter registration day, during which over 800 registration forms were handed out and 683 students were officially registered. But despite these positive signs, many young voters still feel disillusioned towards politics.
There is a growing sentiment among 18-25 year olds that things will not get better in this country, and that the myriad of issues in modern Ireland are too complex to solve. Some feel like their vote doesn’t matter. Others don’t feel well enough informed about the political system. Worse again, some continue the generational pattern of blindly voting for the same party as their parents. Historically, families (particularly in rural Ireland) picked a side of the Civil War and stuck to it, and this has informed their political choices for the past century. Up to the present day, Irish people over a certain age bracket still vote rigidly for the same party every five years, without any real knowledge of their candidates or the party policy. It is precisely this attitude towards politics that has Ireland stuck in this repetitive coin-toss between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who once upon a time, evolved from the very same party.
Each citizen of Ireland has a democratic right to vote, not just at a general election level but at local, European and presidential level as well. The generation that Holly Cairns identifies as being the first to be worse off than their parents now have a rare opportunity to break this cycle of blind voting.
With just under two years until the next general election, there is time to develop an awareness of politics in Ireland: Who are your local TDs? Do you agree with their policies? Can you find their manifestos online? Are you registered to vote? In the age of the internet, it has never been easier to answer these questions. You can figure out your voter registration status by visiting checktheregister.ie and inputting your details. The Oireachtas website also has a list of all the TDs and their constituencies, and information about TD’s can be found on their party website, where you will also find manifestos in the run-up to elections. By making an informed decision, the up and coming generation can change the course of Irish politics and begin a route to solving the problems that have plagued Irish society for decades. The worst thing that any citizen can do for their country is abstain from voting, and if too many people believe that their vote is useless, then it’s almost guaranteed that nothing will ever change.