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Irish elections

This election, young people shook up Ireland’s stagnant political landscape

The youth vote zoned in on a galling housing crisis, the syphoning of public services, and social strife – here, some of them speak to shaping a brighter Irish future

TextMary McGillIllustrationCallum Abbott

Over the weekend, Ireland’s general election served up some shock results – something that has come to define contemporary politics. The country has long been dominated by the centrist, right-leaning duopoly of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, but the surge in support for left-leaning Sinn Féin produced a seismic result that could altogether transform Ireland’s political and social landscape.

Ireland’s young people are one of the key demographics driving this historical swing to the left. While it will take political analysts some time to dig into the electoral data, exit polls showed strong support for Sinn Féin at 32 per cent among voters aged 18-24 and 25-34, with 31.8 per cent of voters aged 18-24 giving the party their first preference. In a country of crippling rents, increasingly precarious employment, rising homelessness, and public services crushed by underfunding, politics-as-usual is not working for many of Ireland’s young voters – now, they are using the ballot box to show it.

This explosion of support for Sinn Féin and other left-leaning candidates has commentators scrambling for explanations. Some in the Irish media have been quick to slam young voters’ support for the left as a misguided ‘snowflake revolt’ that doesn’t consider the downsides of socialist policies. There is also the issue of Sinn Féin’s controversial origins. For many years, the party remained on the fringes of Irish politics due in no small part to its links to paramilitarism in Northern Ireland. Talking to young people who voted left over the weekend however, it seems it is Sinn Féin’s rallying cry of ‘change’ rather than their republican politics that appeals. This corresponds with the desire expressed by many of the young people Dazed spoke to for building what they envisage as a fairer Ireland.

ERIN, 18, FIRST-TIME VOTER

The kind of Ireland I want to see delivered is an Ireland where people have a good quality of living. Where people don't have to sacrifice the college education they want because of money problems. Where people aren't going without food or shelter on a daily basis. Where people can access decent mental health care easily and locally.

The media love to demonize Sinn Féin and complain about young people way too often so it's in no way surprising that they're putting Sinn Féin's legendary numbers down to young people 'following a trend'. Young people are a lot more interested in politics nowadays because they have the resources to actually do research on their own and form opinions away from those of their parents.

The left parties are prioritising problems that are more important to young people in this country than they are to the older generations. That's why they're getting the youth votes. It's not a trend to care about the housing crisis or university fees. It's not a trend to care about our failing health system.

DANNY, 18, A FIRST-TIME VOTER

“I want an Ireland where housing is a right, I want an Ireland where healthcare is single payer universal. I want to see an Ireland where I do not have to worry about the cost of living for the rest of my life. I want to see an Ireland where mass emigration isn't the norm.

Young people are registering to vote and then informing themselves on voting and issues. I recently registered 70 of my fellow students in school, and I can tell you the proportion of them who don't know about politics is way smaller than the proportion of adults who don't know, from my experience.”

RICHARD, 18, A FIRST-TIME VOTER

“We need a society based on the needs of the people, not the greed of corporations. I would like an Ireland that is truly run by the people, for the people. An Ireland where anyone and everyone has a roof over their heads, food to eat, the basics. People should not have to slave away for hours a day to earn starvation wages.

(The election) is reflective of a real thirst for change in Irish society. People have finally grown tired of the two same parties choking the life out of this country, and are looking for an alternative.”

CIARA, 22

“Left parties were the only viable chance at breaking the Fine Gael / Fianna Fáil (duopoly) and for the first time in years, I truly believe we have a chance. My whole life I have witnessed nothing but austerity caused by these two parties. It’s affecting young people now more than ever. I don’t see any chance of either me or my friends staying in this country or owning a home in this country under Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. Witnessing the state the country is in at the moment I can't see any other option than voting left and voting for change.

The same (media) critiques don't fall on young right-wing voters. A young Fianna Fáil TD (‘Teachta Dála’, Irish for ‘member of the House’) was elected in my constituency and I never saw one thinkpiece written on how he was misguided and lacked understanding – only congratulations. However, I, a 22-year-old woman, am berated for not knowing enough constantly. It’s lazy and ignorant rhetoric. Sinn Féin were the most popular party for (all ages) under 65 yet the youth vote of 18-24-year-olds is the one that is being criticised.”

REBECCA, 19, A FIRST TIME VOTER

“I voted left in this election because I believe Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have provided an underwhelming amount of change for our country. I’m 19-years-of-age and I’ve recently given birth to a baby girl while my partner has become homeless. I earn a low wage in my job and the prices of renting nevermind actually trying to buy a house, isn’t very accommodating to my situation. I don’t want my child to have to share a room or bed with me by the time she’s five, I want her to have her own room in our own home. I believe by voting left in this election, there will be a change in the housing crisis situation.”

SAOIRSE, 21

“Despite what the media may think, young people are researching and making informed decisions. Young people are the ones who are fact-checking what is being said and reproduced, by parties on both sides. I am a full-time college student in final year, in a course which requires constant work and attention, with a part-time job on the side. I’m busy almost every single day and tired the rest, but in the past few weeks I have put hours and hours into reading and researching different parties, individual politicians, and even the voting system to make the most possible informed choice I could that matches with my beliefs.”

TOMMY, 28

“I’ve always thought Left. But this is the first election in my constituency in which it seemed genuinely possible to elect a candidate on the left.

I don’t expect this government to be a new movement toward a socialist paradise. However, small gains are still gains. Whether in healthcare, housing or otherwise.

Frankly, I think the media analyses have been laughable. It’s either been wholly ignorant of an educated, energetic and engaged youth or nothing more than a means of discrediting left-wing policies. There are of course a myriad of legitimate critiques one could make of socialism but I have yet to hear any mainstream commentator make one.”

SEAN*, 28

“I’m 28, earn €32k a year and live in Dublin, where I spend almost half my wages on rent and have no prospect of getting a mortgage and even if I did, it’d never be enough to buy anything in Dublin or surrounding counties. Everyday I walk to work and see homeless people of all ages sleeping on the streets, many for no other reason than because they can’t afford to live in a house or apartment. Every month I’ve to get a prescription for medication for anxiety because it’s cheaper than counselling and the public health counselling seems impossible to access.

I voted left because I’m sick of seeing everyone but the most wealthy in our society suffering. I’m sick of not being able to access public healthcare. I’m sick of paying half my wages for a room in a house. As a gay man, I’m sick of the big two – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – ignoring my right to equal treatment before the law until they see major popularity in an issue. And I’m sick of being told I’m wrong for wanting change.”

Edited for brevity and clarity

*Name changed