Why #GE16 has turned me off

Many people of my generation are turned off by party politics.

In the leaders debate we could plainly see the disconnect between our political leaders and the young population. Many people of my generation looked at the four party leaders and we are left wondering if they are equipped to make the decisions that affect those of us who are under 35. They seem to believe that, as the elected officials, they are given a right to shape society in their own image and are oblivious to their responsibilities to guide society to meet the needs of all who participate in it.

The Leader’s Debate was shambolic. In my estimation it was insulting; a heckle-fest by those asking for our support to serve as our Government. I offer that criticism to each of the four candidates equally. The purpose of political debate is to inform the voter of the issues at stake and the variety of solutions on offer. The only issue that was clarified is how utterly incapable our political leaders are to see beyond their own careers, parties and self-interest. It is clear from the debate that the skill of communication, so important to the Millennial generation, is entirely absent from the political sphere.

When sitting with friends over a beer we can have frank and open discussion on every topic under the sun. We seldom agree in totality but we have the capability to discuss, to hear the other side, to consider its merits and change our own perceptions when offered a convincing reason to do so. Judging from the leaders debate, this ability is entirely absent from our political leaders.

The Marriage referendum was an example of the society that the young of Ireland are looking to build. Not only did the young people of Ireland come out in their thousands on polling day, but in the months and weeks leading to the vote, a discussion was led by the young to encourage their families and friends to support the marriage equality referendum, not because it was good policy, but because it mattered in shaping an inclusive society that is valued by our people. It directly effected our lives and the lives of those we love. It was equality that was written into our Constitution, not support for a party. The Marriage equality vote showed just how powerful the youth of Ireland can be when given a reason to stand and be counted.

No longer do the youth of Ireland vote for party principles, or familiar faces. We do not want our national parliamentarians working on potholes or medical cards, we want them working on making the weak in our society strong. We live in a world so much bigger than Fianna Fail or Fine Gael. We have realised that the political party system is designed to bury social issues, not address them.

In the leaders debate when the topic of abortion was brought up we saw how quickly the candidates (who were previously on the cusp of descending into fist fights) shrank back from the issue and hid behind catch-phrases and anecdotes.

This is the fundamental difference between the political class and the youth of Ireland. We do not have the same regard for ‘traditions’. Our political masters are standing in our way. They decide which issues are worthy of discussing and which are not, such as Micheál Martin declaring that the issue of the 8th amendment is not a priority for him and his party, regardless of the will of the electorate. They decide for their own party-political reasons, with their career as the primary motivator, what direction Ireland moves in.

In the last decade we have seen two distinctly different governments, and yet to me and many like me, we see no difference at all in how our country is governed. In the general election of 2016 we look on and see that the only option we are being presented with is more of the same, where politicians make promises we don’t believe they can or will keep, in order to control the conversation. As long as we are locked in a debate over what ‘fiscal space’ means, we are avoiding discussing the real needs of reforming our education system, addressing the very real and serious second tier citizens status of Mná na hÉireann, or how on earth we can spend unfathomably vast sums of money on a health care system that strips all who come into contact with it (both patients and staff) of dignity.

Now, more than ever before, the voting population is more sophisticated, more globally aware, and better able to make informed judgements on the world around us. And frankly, when we look at our political masters – all we can feel is disappointed. We have been witness to the old adage our entire lives – Obviam novus princeps, idem vetus amet (Meet the new boss, same as the old boss).

And this is why the general election of 2016 is turning me, and others like me, off politics. We have come to realise that it does not matter who gets our number one – the system is fixed to ensure it makes very little difference. Regardless of who is elected on February 26th, the issues remain the same and change, apparently, isn’t on offer.

Emmy Maher

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  • Charlie Farlie

    Whilst I understand the sense of frustration highlighted in Emmy’s piece, I think its become all to easy for general criticism of politics as a whole without going into the actual reasons why.
    ‘The system is fixed’, is not a definite, as the only people who have been in control of the system is centre right and right parties, who to be frank are honest enough in not wanting Emmy’s wish of ‘making the weak in society strong’. Right wing parties make no secret of the fact that they will protect those at the top. Ok they are more subtle than that but its surprising to no-one when they bring this ideology into practice.

    Some of the criticism of this election really should have been criticism of the status quo. Left wing parties and Independents have came out very openly and called for a repeal of the 8th amendment, as Emmy wishes. All Left wing protagonists have created a plan for the reform of the health service, where funds will be redirected into a more fair and equitable system. SF have even said the whole health system will change from a current two tier public/private entity to what is essentially, over a period of ten years, a National Health Service.
    So I guess my point is there are alternatives, it just seems like Emmy is criticising the Status Quo, and fearing the other side. What she wants, they have proposed! Maybe time for an ideological switch?

  • Cahir O’Doherty

    I think it’s useful to bear in mind the distinction between ‘politics’ as elections and governments and ‘politics’ in the broader sense of the word here. I don’t think you’re being turned off politics, just the formal rules and institutions that have come to constitute ‘politics.’

    I fully agree that a lot of younger people are no longer party political, or even ideological, at least along traditional axes. But they are not apolitical or not interested in politics. Rather, the politics that they want to create is one that doesn’t have a lot to do with pounding the streets once every five years trying to drum up votes.

    Remember that politics isn’t just that thing we do once every couple of years where we go into a booth and put a load of numbers or an X next to a name, but that politics is in the everyday: it’s in discussions over a pint, it’s in petitions, it’s in creative processes, it’s in debates and protest marches and yelling at the news on the TV.

    So by all means say f*** off to formal ‘politics,’ but stay engaged with the issues through whatever means you have at your disposal that work to question and (ideally) subvert those rules and institutions that we call politics.

  • Nevin

    Emmy nails her colours to the mast:


  • JohnTheOptimist

    This is a childish article.

    Spare us from adolescents thinking that they alone know best and that everyone who has come before them has achieved nothing.

    The reality is that, because of its PR system, Ireland is more open to new smaller parties than most countries. A new party getting just 3%-4% of the votes can get several TDs elected. There is a multitude of parties in the Dail. Contrast with the UK. There, it is extremely difficult for new parties to break through. At the last election UKIP got 14%-15% of the vote, but only 1 MP. The Greens also only got 1 MP, despite 8%-9% of the vote. In Scotland Labour got (I think) around 20% of the vote, but only 1 MP. In the UK fringe left-wing groups have virtually no chance of getting an MP elected, but in Ireland loony groups like PBF/AAA can get several TDs elected despite their minuscule vote. I’m not arguing that Ireland’s system is better (the UK’s is an aid to stability, so it has its own advantages), but merely that its different and fairer to new smaller parties seeking radical change. Some might say ‘too fair’ and an unnecessary source of instability. We’ll know tomorrow if that will be the case in the next Dail.

    What the author is really complaining about is that the electorate don’t share her views and keep electing governments that she doesn’t like. Tough! That’s democracy. Clearly, the Irish electorate have never supported moves to turn the economy into a socialist one. They’ve seen the damage that has done elsewhere – pre-1990 Eastern Europe, Cuba, Venezuela, Greece etc. The use of the term ‘fiscal space’ is simply another way of saying ‘living within your means’ as applied to the economy as a whole. That’s sound policy. Countries that adhere to it are the most successful. No doubt a lot of young people would be much more enthused about this election if there was the prospect of the Syriaz Party being elected to government and some dashing figure like Yanis Varoudakis taking control. How exciting that would be. Imagine the enthusiasm on social media and the jubilant crowds on the streets if that were in prospect for Ireland. Alas, the downside would be total economic ruin a few months later.

    The author speaks of ‘reforming the education system’, but says nothing about what that means. I suspect she is not referring to improved ways of teaching algebra, but to the fact that Ireland allows parents freedom of choice for the type of school they send their children to, rather than having a uniform system run by the state with all parental choice removed. But, again that’s because the electorate prefers the current system which, incidentally, achieved much better results in the last PISA tests than the more state-run secular systems in England, Scotland, N. Ireland and Wales did. On health, life expectancy in Ireland is currently about 10 years higher than when I was the author’s age. That’s partly the result of massively improved living standards, much better housing, and much higher expenditure on health services, all the things that the economic growth of the past 50 years have brought. On issues where there has been a change in public opinion over the years (for better or worse), such as gay marriage, the Irish electoral system has indeed shown it can adapt to the change. While on the alleged second class status of women in Ireland, the last UN Gender Equality report ranked Ireland in the top 10 in the world.