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Fionnan Sheahan: Dail needs injection of young blood now more than ever

WHEN the meltdown struck Fine Gael in 2002, the only bright spot for the party was the election of three young TDs.

Call it a coincidence, but all three were based in Leinster.

Paul Kehoe in Wexford, Olwyn Enright in Laois-Offaly, and Damien English in Meath came through the electoral massacre on their first run, while other more experienced colleagues lost their seats.

A theory put forward was the willingness of voters to go for younger candidates from a party in decline even when they were throwing out older colleagues. And the commuter belt also threw up a younger population, new to the area and with no traditional loyalty to the older candidates.

Going into early retirement from politics at just 36 years old, Ms Enright, who has two young children and is married to TD Joe McHugh, doesn't reckon the bucking of the trend nine years ago was an accident.

"People probably wanted a different style of politician. The age profile of the commuters and the age profile of us probably was a factor," she said.

But the Fine Gael TD says she doesn't see the pattern being repeated for Fianna Fail's new candidates on this occasion.

"I think the public will be very discerning this time about how they vote. I think the party issue will be stronger. I don't think the 'Ogra generation' (young Fianna Fail candidates) will be the big hit," she said.

That's bad news for Fianna Fail's young turks.

The economic climate has changed dramatically in the commuter belt over recent years. The celebrated queue at the deli counter in the store for the breakfast roll has been replaced by the dole queue at the labour exchange.

Inadequacies

The commuter-belt constituencies did play an important role in the Celtic Tiger days in highlighting the inadequacies of public policy. The 2005 by-elections to replace John Bruton and Charlie McCreevy in Meath and Kildare North respectively, did put the issue of inadequate childcare firmly on the national agenda.

It shouldn't have been necessary to have politicians from across the parties going canvassing in housing estates of sprawling towns to realise the pressures on double-income families with young children. Unfortunately it did.

The now-defunct early childcare supplement, replaced by the free childcare place last year, was the upshot of this lesson in the realities of raising children while trying to hold down a job a two-hour drive away.

Much like the rest of the country, the primary problem of the region in 2011 is unemployment and job opportunities.

The young couples who bought houses in the counties around Dublin are now struggling to pay mortgages.

The need for young politicians in tune with their problems was never more urgent.

The young population of the commuter belt is being offered a new generation of representatives.

Fianna Fail has a number of first-time general election candidates hoping to make the breakthrough and get under the radar of voter ire in Leinster, most notably James Carroll in Louth, Shane Cassells in Meath West and Jennifer Murnane-O'Connor in Carlow.

Fine Gael's Martin Heydon in Kildare South, Simon Harris in Wicklow, Catherine Yore in Meath West and Regina Doherty in Meath East, albeit at her second shot, are flying the flag for their party.

The Labour Party's Ged Nash in Louth, Jenny McHugh in Meath West and Dominic Hannigan in Meath East, also on his second shot, fit the bill, too.

Sinn Fein's Peadar Toibin in is another of the younger generation going into the fray.

Given the general age profile of the existing Dail, an injection of young blood wouldn't go astray.

Irish Independent