Young Turks lay bare the ills of our society but few are there to listen
Published 25/07/2014 | 02:30
'I was offered Class A drugs a couple of times a year but I was never once offered a chance to volunteer," announced the speaker, Daithi de Buitleir.
Whoa. That certainly grabbed the attention of the mature audience, the majority of whom would probably put extra-strength Paracetamol into the hard drug category.
This certainly wasn't the usual statement overheard during a week-long talking-shop awash with cerebral hand-wringing on the state of politics, interspersed with slides and graphs and earnest ruminations on Ireland's fiscal pickle, where anyone in the audience or on the stage under the age of 40 is most likely collecting glasses or setting up chairs.
But then, this wasn't the usual MacGill Summer School session, in which the speakers mostly comprise of politicians, a few ministers, the odd top civil servant (odd in the numerical sense, you understand), academics and pointy-heads and cohorts of consultants of one type or the other.
Onstage were three speakers under the age of 30; two newly-elected councillors, FF's Kate Feeney, elected in Blackrock, Dublin, and Gary Gannon from the North Inner City ward, and also Daithi de Buitleir, social entrepreneur and founding of Raising and Giving Ireland (RAG), an organisation which promotes student volunteerism.
The subject under discussion was apathy among young voters who routinely stay away in droves from any class of poll.
And it turned out to be the most interesting and engaging debate of the week, bristling with bright ideas, cogent and impassioned views on issues which are actually relevant to citizens' lives.
Kate, who hit the headlines during the local election run-in when she found herself with a running-mate and member of the Fianna Fail Old Guard, Mary Hanafin, made no bones about the reception she got on the doors during the campaign.
She explained that she had found herself on the sharp end of "more than a few lambastings about the actions and decisions of those who had gone before me", adding, "this wasn't an anti Fianna Fail statement – although I still encountered plenty of those – but an anti-political parties statement.
A plague on all our houses".
Kate blamed the culture of parties making – then breaking – election promises for alienation of the electorate.
"Who could blame them for being cynical when over the years all parties – including my own – have been guilty of this kind of conduct?" she asked.
Daithi was damning on what he perceived as a lack of coherent planning from the Government. "Ireland seems to be an aimless project with no fundamental purpose. Our political parties squabble amongst themselves with little focus other than ensuring self-survival.
"Our traditional political heavyweights have no guiding ideology or vision of what Ireland can become – other than embarrassing little soundbites such as 'the best small country in the world in which to do business'," he declared.
Practical solutions to unemployment had to be found, especially for smaller communities, he said. "Facebook are never coming to Glenties".
And then Gary Gannon delivered a blistering speech on how the political system has failed the vulnerable, the disadvantaged and the poor.
"Do we even pretend to believe in a 'Government of the people, by the people, for the people' anymore? Did anybody flinch, even an eyelash, when the last cabinet reshuffle unfolded a front bench of predominantly white, middle-class, conservative men?
If we believe in any semblance of representative democracy then surely we must look around at our Dail Eireann and ask ourselves the question – for which people?" he wanted to know.
The room was quiet, but it was an engaged sort of silence. For once, blood was running around the veins of MacGill.
Gary continued. "We are so very tired of living in an economy where trickledown economics mean some people might be able to get jobs as cleaners in large financial institutions," he said.
"If you want to address the cause of our apathy then maybe we can invest in public housing, affordable childcare, domestic violence services or recovery beds where people, who injected themselves with a poison in the hope of escaping the hell that was their everyday life, can find the assistance they need to become clean again."
When he finished, prolonged applause rang around the room.
It was stirring stuff, but it begged the question – why weren't any of these articulate and smart trio talking to an audience of ministers or secretary-generals or shakers and movers from the central bank – the ilk of speaker who could actually make decisions, get things done, but who were all left to pontificate with their own peers earlier in the week?
Afterwards, Kate Feeney said she had really enjoyed the panel and the engagement with the audience, but it was "disappointing" that there hadn't been more young people in the room.
The dust needed to be blown off – off MacGill, off the elitist, entrenched attitudes of the political classes – and off the older members of the electorate who dismiss young people as good-for-nothings.
They might just be good for something, after all.