Opinion: Abortion Debate Highlights Political Impotency of the Younger Generation

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Abortion protest – Barcelona, Spain. Photo: David Berkowitz.

As I left my house to go to work yesterday I found, as I regularly do, junk mail crammed into my letter box. But, unlike the usual menu for takeaways or an estate agent trying to get me to sell my rented house, I found a leaflet for anti-abortion. It was well made with good eye-catching design; even the pictures of its featured politicians were Obama-ised like the famous ‘Change’ posters. I left it where it was and continued on my way. Two minutes down the street I met the man who was handing out the flyers. Now, I work in a place where daily I deal with large numbers of elderly and retired people, so take my word for it when I tell you; he was one of the oldest people I have ever seen. He was walking up driveways at the pace of a snail with a limp, and his liver spots were so numerous they could have been freckles on a ginger child. Never before have I seen the division of opinions between the old and the young so perfectly portrayed. And yet, despite this man’s obvious lack of vitality he was standing up and making an effort to involve himself in an issue he feels very strongly about. The same can definitely not be said of the majority of the young people in my generation.

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A very young Egyptian at an anti-government protest in Tahrir Square. Author: Mike Porterinmd.

In 2011, following what was the most dismal performance we have had from a government in many years, you would have expected everyone to stand up and say enough is enough, but in the general election that year only 45 per cent of 18-34 year olds were registered to vote, and out of those who were registered only 62 per cent actually did; admittedly the largest turnout for that age bracket in over a decade but still, young people don’t care about politics. In fact when most young people are asked about politics they respond with the phrase: (this exact phrase I have heard repeated by different, unrelated people dozens of times) “I hate politics; especially Irish politics.” I’m sorry; but what other kind of politics is there? You do live in Ireland do you not? Young people care more about American presidents than they do about who decides their own fate, hence the correlations with Obama’s campaign made in the pro-life publications.

But the young people are not the only ones losing faith. In an opinion poll taken of potential voters in March; the statistics published came as a blow to many of the political elite. 27 per cent of people who had political allegiances supported Fine Gael, 23 per cent went with their brothers over at Fianna Fail, with Labour plummeting to 7 per cent, unfair considering it is their coalition partner’s fault they haven’t lived up to their supporters’ expectations. But regardless of that, Sinn Fein garnered 15 per cent of the vote with all the others, the Greens, People Before Profit etc gaining 27 per cent overall. 34 per cent of those surveyed said that they didn’t know who to vote for, and in fact didn’t want to vote for any of them. So, what does all this mean? Time for a history lesson.

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Sinn Féin election poster from 1918.

In 1918 a general election was held in Great Britain, which then included Ireland as well. In this election the 2nd Sinn Fein, led by its new leader Éamon de Valera won a landslide vote, which allowed them to take the steps necessary to declaring Ireland an independent state. Now they won this election for a number of reasons. One was the growing dissatisfaction with the current parties of the time (sound familiar?), another was the fact that they had a candidate for election in every constituency, but mainly it was because of the youth vote: large numbers of young people – who bore no allegiances to the parties at the time – came out to the polls and voted for change, electing the youthful, vigorous, fresh faced candidates from Sinn Fein. And they brought more change than this country has seen since.

Nowadays we are a free ‘republic’ so the need for change isn’t so great, but there is still remains a need. What we lack is the means. Ireland is fertile soil for a new party to take form. Everyone is unhappy with the government, young people are leaving by the thousands to seek better opportunities abroad, the older generation is just that – old, and slowly but surely dwindling, and the middle generation has to start thinking about their own futures in that bracket. The current government has made it quite clear through its lack of action that it doesn’t care diddly-squat about the pension crisis which is set to occur within the next ten to fifteen years, and even the party in power is divided on the terms of its own abortion legislation. Like in 1918 we are a country ready to take the next step in our political society. That next step is a new, democratic party with none of the stigma or indeed the dogma that our current options have.

The next general election will be held by Easter 2016, a very important date, as it will be the centenary of our declaration of independence. What we have is a genuine chance to turn things around, to reform our system and step out from the shadow the past has cast over this country. All that remains to be done is to find this new party, and find the leaders that are worth our faith. Because people do care about Irish politics, they care about it so much that they have stopped caring about it because of what it is, because of what its leaders represent. So let’s change it. If you are out there, and you think you have what it takes please don’t be afraid, look to our history and look to the future, we can change our ways, we can change our direction, all we need is someone, who, like Obama, can give us hope, and fingers crossed, the rest will follow.

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