On Wednesday 27 March, we had a mid-way mentoring session was organised for the reporters taking part in Youth Media and the Irish Presidency (YMIP). The mentoring session itself wasn’t very practical, but it was good for my psyche. Fear not reader, I am neither a mentalist nor a fan of mumbo jumbo. If anything I am the complete opposite.
I am 25 years old (I met the age criteria for this programme by the skin of my teeth), driven, motivated, and up until Wednesday afternoon was quite cynical about the government’s – and indeed Europe’s – dedication to tackling the problem of youth unemployment in this country.
The pandemic of unemployed youth across the continent leads to further problems, including disengagement, disillusionment and disregard for anything that politicians do or say. It leads to apathy and anger. I have struggled with all of these emotions myself.
When speaking to politicians, I am always on the look-out for the chink in their armour, the monotone voice of someone parading out the party line from a press release they learned off by heart the previous week.
Sometimes I forget the citizen part of being a citizen journalist. I get so caught up with journalistic integrity and putting forward all the facts without making an opinion that I look at politicians as if they are mere briefs. Where’s the hidden loophole behind their words? Where’s the party plug?
Politics is supposed to be about the practicalities of ruling an entire nation of people, but at the very core of politics there is ideology, and at the centre of ideology reside people and beliefs. I have forgotten about that in the past few years, as unfortunately have many politicians. Last week’s session reminded me of that.
The officials who spoke to us on Wednesday spoke as individuals rather than mouthpieces, which was refreshing. Party politics (the most obvious bits at least) were left at the door. They came with bags under their eyes, snowflakes in their hair and PA’s hovering nervously in the background, nothing else.
We had a surprise visit from An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, which left me stunned.
I was stunned by the fact that the leader of our country had taken the time to come and speak to ten aspiring citizen journalists, stunned by the fact that a leading government official came around to each and every one of us and asked us a little bit about our lives and finally the most stunning fact of all, the hope and optimism it gave me for our country and my generation.
I find the last fact most stunning because I come from a very humble working class family in rural Ireland. I have seen first-hand the devastation emigration has reaped on rural towns and villages. The ban on peat cutting, the fear of farmers, the lack of industry and the cherry on top, all the austerity measures put in place by his government. Yet, An Taoiseach came to speak with us, the disengaged youth, the infamous Generation Y, and answered our questions as if it were our entitlement. It is, but some governmental representatives haven’t received that memo.
Next up was Minister Lucinda Creighton who told us about what has been achieved so far during the Presidency and her favourite initiatives during that time, the Citizens’ Dialogues.
Later in the day we met representatives from the four main parties: Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin; John Lyons TD, Labour; Dara Calleary TD, Fianna Fáil and Simon Harris TD, Fine Gael.
It felt genuine and unpostured, and while I may not believe in their parties, each of them struck a chord with me in a different way. I loved Mr Ó Broin’s eloquence and fearlessness; I respect John Lyons’ involvement in the Youth Guarantee; Deputy Calleary’s rural focus was refreshing for a girl who grew up in the middle of nowhere but now lives in the country’s capital; and Simon Harris was inspirational yet unassuming (he is the youngest member of Dáil Éireann). Most of all I loved the fact that the speakers, who come from so many different political backgrounds, entered into discussion with us and each other and agreed on so many points.
Each person who spoke with us had their own interests to plug at this event and we weren’t given any definite answers regards concrete job creation for young people. However it restored a little of my faith in politicians, and I now realise that most of my cynicism is directed at the political system rather than all the individuals within it. Some are worthy of cynicism, but not all. Wednesday’s session was all about engagement and discussion and revealed, to me at least, the human face of politics.