Thursday 20 June 2019

'Maybe it’s time for me to be that voice I’m looking for'- meet the younger generation entering this year's local election race

Election Insight: We talk to a fraction of the 101 young candidates running for local election to find out why they've entered the political race

Sharon Nolan (Photo: Brian Crehan)
Sharon Nolan (Photo: Brian Crehan)

Callum Lavery

Over 1,970 candidates will run in this year's local elections, battling it out for the 949 seats available across the country.

As household names and long term veterans come out in force on May 24, the newer candidates dipping their toe in the race for the first time have already been making quite the stir.

Over 190 candidates in this year's elections are aged between 18-35 years old, some 9.6pc of the total number of candidates, according to the President of the Geographical Society of Ireland, Adrian Kavanagh.

While 101 of these candidates are aged between 18-30 years-old, with 19-year-olds Catriona Reid (Green Party), Carah Daniel (Solidarity), and Sárán Fogarty (Fianna Fail) being the youngest local election candidates this year.

Independent.ie caught up with just some of these budding politicians to find out why they are running at such a young age.

"Our council is very stuck in the past, in the old way of politics" - Declan Meehan (29), Independent, Milford Electoral Area, Donegal

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Declan Meehan

Milford born Meehan previously studied History in in Trinity College Dublin before doing his masters in Politics and Security Studies in Queens university. Mr Meehan is the co-founder of ShoutOut, an Irish education and LGBT charity. He has worked with Cara-Friend, a youth service in Northern Ireland, and is on the board of directors for the Donegal Youth service.

"The choice the candidates have to make is whether to run this year or whether to wait until 2024," Mr Meehan told Independent.ie.

"I decided to run this year because from my perspective, our council is very stuck in the past, in the old way of politics and there is a huge disconnect between the county council and the people they are meant to be serving and representing.

"If we are looking into who we want to have as representatives in the 2020s it needs to be people capable of future proofing our future economy as we are faced with new challenges.

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Declan Meehan

"The reason I wanted to run at a young age is because I see it as a strength. I think at a young age you have the ambition for your area and you have a lot of ideas. You are also more in tune to developments and trends both in the local economy, in technological advancements but also in tourism.

"We need more young people on the council at county level, particularly in rural Ireland where we see a lot of depopulation, especially with younger people leaving places like Donegal to go and work and live in Dublin.

"I was approached by an number of parties to run, but I decided ultimately to run as an independent because I just believed that it was more conductive to working collaboratively, and also I'm not interested in party politics or the ambition involved with that.

"A lot people run for county councils  and see it as a spring board or stepping stone to go on to national politics. That’s not my interest, my interest is to go into county council and do a good proper job at that level.

"The first thing I would do if I was Taoiseach is I would make third level education completely free. I would abolish the registration free and I would fund university education through general taxation."

"Galway city is such a young and vibrant place but Galway council doesn't currently reflect that" - Sharon Nolan (27), Social Democrats, Galway City Central, Galway

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Sharon Nolan (Photo: Brian Crehan)

Originally from Roscommon, Ms Nolan moved to Galway City when she began college. She has spent the past couple of years involved with the marriage equality campaign, and with different rights issues both locally and nationally. She was the co-convener of Galway Together for Yes in 2018, and is the current chair of Galway Community Pride.

"I think that for our local authority and councils they really need younger voices, and we are very disproportionately underrepresented at that level.

"Young people are leading the way through activism but it is a great step for some of us to go and represent politically as well.

"We are living a completely different life to those who are 20 or 30 years older than us.

"Most of us are renters and will be in the long term, most of us have worked in very precarious work and may still be working in precarious work now and most of us are concerned about environmental action. I just wanted to represent that at a local level.

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Sharon Nolan

"Galway city is such a young and vibrant place but Galway council doesn't currently reflect that.

"I think that people have an idea in their head about what a politician looks like and it certainly isn't a 27 year old woman to a lot of those people.

"I think housing is one of the biggest issues for young people. We are disproportionately the renters, rents have gone up, we are paying higher rents than people are paying mortgages.

"Our younger people are disproportionately affected by homelessness or are taken advantage of by their landlords.

"I want to help represent renters rights at a local level and continue lobbying for more public housing and more regulation against short term let sites like AirBnB.

"My first move if I was Taoiseach would be to do a complete revamp of the national housing programme, so that we are building tens of thousands of houses over the next few years rather than very small projects dotted across the country.

"If I was Taoiseach tomorrow that’s the first thing I would do."

"We need more social housing, we need more affordable housing" - Hannah Lemass (27), Fianna Fáil, Cabra, Glasnevin, Dublin City Council

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Hannah Lemass

Originally from Rathfarnham, Ms Lemass did her undergrad in DCU in Japanese translation and inter cultural studies, She was the director of the Irish Network in Kyoto, and organised the St. Patrick’s day parade there. After DCU Ms Lemass did a masters in Journalism in DIT and is currently working as a freelance production researcher.

"I was always going to get involved in politics at some stage. I always felt a very strong social and civic responsibility and to look out for people and help people," she told Independent.ie.

"But the reason I decided to run now rather than later in life, is simply because I wanted young people to represent me at the city council level.

"The best city council is a diverse one with people from all different age groups and backgrounds are represented, as I waited for young people to be elected to represent me, I decide, ‘actually maybe it’s time for me to be that voice I’m looking for.’

[Young] people are becoming more engaged, the referenda we have had over the past couple of years, the marriage equality referendum and the repeal the eight referendum, were really a catalyst for young people getting involved with shaping the country they want for themselves and for the future.

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Hannah Lemass

"Housing is the number one thing, people need houses, and young people are fighting thinking they are never going to be able to own their own homes or afraid that they are going to be pushed out of their communities because they cant afford housing in the area.

"We need more social housing, we need more affordable housing, we need more options for people, we need more family homes and starter homes.

"Mental Health of course is another thing, I’m making as much noise about that as possible. I was in darkness into light on Saturday morning and 10,000 people showed up to Phoenix Park alone. People care about mental health and that is something that needs resources and is something that I feel very passionate about being reformed.

"Obviously my great-grandfather was a Fianna Fáil founding member, so I have always have had a positive view of Fianna Fáil. Historically Fianna Fáil has probably done the most for this country.

"If I was Taoiseach the first thing I would do is just make this city easier to ride a bike through the city. Just make it a little safer for people to get around on a bike, because it is just absolutely impossible. I’d love to be able to ride a bike around Dublin but I can’t because it’s too scary."

"I will never be able to afford live in Bray or in the surrounding area, even as a renter" - Sárán Fogarty (19) Fianna Fáil, Bray West, Wicklow

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Sárán Fogarty

As one of Ireland's youngest candidates, Fogarty began his political career during work experience for Stephen Donnelly when he was 15. Since then, he has been a canvas leader for North Wicklow Together for Yes and co-led the Wicklow for Michael D. Higgins campaign.

"So I was looking and thinking about all the changes I wanted to see in politics and in what was going on and I thought if really wanted to see the change and I was truly passionate I had to do it myself.

"I find in my own area there is such a disconnect between local government and people. If anything local government should be the most in touch with people.

"I have always been very politically engaged. I don’t come from a political family at all, and some traditionally younger politicians tend to come from more politicised families that tend to have a lineage, say the Lemasses and the Haugheys. But I think that is really changing.

"People are more clicking with the fact of how much the have to fight for their rights. And I think last year with the repeal referendum, really, really fired up younger people to get more involved in politics and to take an active role.

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Sárán Fogarty

"Housing is probably the biggest one. We are the locked out generation. For example, in the current housing situation I will never be able to afford  live in Bray or in the surrounding area, even as a renter.

"I think another big thing is services for younger people, in particular mental health services.

"I know a lot of friends who have very much suffered but I think they find it quite frustrating that for physical health the conversation is very straight forward, but for mental health it is all quite complicated.

"Fianna Fáíl have an absolutely incredible level, both in the Dáil, in local government and running for Europe.

"I very much wanted to run with a party of governments, a party that I think was willing to make difficult decisions and put the national interest above ourselves. I have to say I’m very proud of that.

"I suppose the first thing I would love to look at personally if I was Taoiseach, something that is very close to my heart, would be the ending of direct provision.

"I have no interest by being held or being dictated to by party policy. My policy is the people’s policy" - Jackie Healy-Rae (24), Independent, Kerry

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Jackie Healy-Rae

Over the last four years Mr Healy-Rae has worked as a parliamentary assistant for his father Michael, as Mr Healy-Rae Jr said himself: "A lot of places in Kerry are football households but here we had a political household, so it was bound to catch onto one of us."

Healy-Rae Jr has spent time attending Kerry County Council meetings with his father, and has gained valuable experience around local politics in Kerry.

"I never thought I would get the opportunity this young. But the opportunity presented itself five years ago so I took it with both hands.

"I would consider myself as having my apprenticeship done and the best way to put that into practice was to put my name on the ballot paper and see how we go.

"It’s more difficult to enter as a younger candidate. I don’t have any experience through political parties but as an independent, it is alway harder no matter what age you are because you don’t have a political party behind you.

"I have seen more younger people beginning to engage in politics since I’ve started canvasing. Since they started to introduce so many policies against younger people now, like for instance, the Clancy amendment [for learner drivers].

"They are beginning to say how do I do something about this? And I always say, 'use your vote to let government or political parties know how you are feeling.'

"My district is very rural based, so I suppose at the very start of the campaign the whole issue around driving tests and the Clancy amendments were quite raw.

"If they are implementing these rules then they need to be able to offer a solution fur us to be able to get around.

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Jackie Healy-Rae jnr from Kilgarvan, County Kerry. Photo: Don MacMonagle © www.macmonagle.com

"Public transport would be a big thing, and that's not just for younger people. Because due to restrictions and drink driving laws there are older people that need to be able to get around whether to the pub or to the shop.

"I have no interest by being held or being dictated to by party policy. My policy is the people’s policy. The only ever Healy-Rae that was elected under the title of a political party was my grandfather Jackie.

"My father, my uncle, and my two cousins never stood under a political party, and I’d be the same. I see in recent votes in the Dáil and in local authorities, TDs and councillors who genuinely don’t believe in the legislation but due to party politics they have to vote for something they don’t agree with. I think that’s wrong.

"My first thing as Taoiseach would be to ensure that every piece of legislation that was ever to go through the Dáil was rural proof.

"This government and the last government were probably the most anti-rural governments I have ever seen in my life. And I haven't had a very long life."

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