Marie put together this collage of some of the photos she took at the Citizens’ Dialogue. Her photos are also being featured in articles written by other YMIP journalists, so keep an eye out for her work as you read reports from other members of the YMIP team.
Launch of the European Year of the Citizen 2013 and the Fifth EU Citizens’ Dialogue
Under the watchful eyes of deep-rooted Irish idols such as Daniel O’Connell, and Thomas Davis, one of Europe’s most key dignitaries entered Dublin City Hall to launch the European Year of the Citizen for 2013. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, flanked by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste amongst other Ministers arrived, albeit late it must be noted, to a warm welcome from the largely pro-EU audience in attendance. This warm welcome came against the backdrop of a seemingly frustrated city where, if recent polls are to be believed, there is growing animosity towards European leaders due to the continuing crisis within Irish society. The day’s proceedings which were also to include the fifth EU Citizens’ Dialogue event began optimistically with three inspiring speeches being given by the key dignitaries who discussed areas such as banking, youth unemployment and the need for more democracy in the EU. The main highlight was a rousing round of applause and shouts of ‘hear, hear!’ in response to President Barroso’s comments about the banking sector needing to take responsibility for their own actions, an issue widely discussed throughout this island by all classes of society. Well-known RTÉ presenter, Pat Kenny, who was overseeing proceedings, chaired the short Q and A session which followed their speeches and subsequently, in a flash, these three powerful guests were gone, off to the airport we were told, escaping any real difficult questions from the audience about the economy or the banking sector which people had sought to ask.
Prior to the arrival of the dignitaries at City Hall, I took the opportunity to speak with several of the younger citizens in attendance about why they decided to apply to come to the event organised by European Movement Ireland and what they hoped to gain from the experience of taking part In the Citizens’ Dialogue. Interestingly many of them had similar opinions, especially when it came to the economy and the crisis. Cian Power, a student from UCC in Cork, mentioned that he felt obliged to attend today’s event due to his concerns that youth issues in general are not being represented enough in the Republic of Ireland. He stated “for example, there is a very low number of TD’s in Ireland who are under the age of thirty, and today I want to ask them, what can be done to improve youth involvement in Irish political life”. Another youth participant, Renagh Mooney, a DCU International Relations graduate from Offaly, applied to attend the Citizens’ Dialogue in order “to listen and to learn” from the Dialogue but also “to hear what people my own age have to say during the event”. Renagh stated that she feels “passionately about the way in which the government has failed to engaged with the youth of Ireland regarding Ireland’s Presidency” and that “the government could have done a lot more to inform certain sections of Irish society about the role Ireland is now playing in Europe”. The final young citizen I spoke with was Patrick Lavelle, an intelligent, 18 year old Leaving Cert student from Co. Dublin who decided to apply due to his interest in European affairs. A key interest for Patrick was the promissory note issue where he stated that “we, the Irish citizens, shouldn’t be paying this money at all!” Patrick developed his argument by stating that he “didn’t want to be eighty years old in a state where its biggest achievement was paying off a debt that wasn’t ours to pay whilst its infrastructure was about a century behind everyone else’s”. Following the informative and stimulating discussions with these bright young people, I was very enthusiastic regarding the discussions that were about to take place during the Citizens’ Dialogue.
Shortly after the departure of President Barroso to the airport, Vice-President Viviane Reding of Luxembourg and Minister for State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton moved onto the bright orange podium to begin the three-themed, Citizens’ Dialogue event, where the questions and the mood got a little bit more hostile than the awe-struck sentiment which preceded it. Amongst the audience there was a majority of individuals who understood the roles of the European Commission and also many well-known chiefs of prominent non-governmental organisations, including Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International and Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland, suggesting that the audience at the event was not representative of Irish society as a whole. Nonetheless, during this Dialogue a wide variety of questions were asked, ranging from how to help the poorest people in our societies, to longer working expectations for people over sixty, and how to provide opportunities for young people. Minister Lucinda Creighton illuminated her opinions on the youth issue, stating “young people have suffered most in this crisis, they have taken the brunt of it”.
Vice-President Reding then went on to state that “2013 is a beginning of a new adventure, an adventure where politicians are listening to the citizens of Ireland and Europe”. To her credit, she passionately answered the questions asked of her, with a unique parliamentary approach, often leaving her seat to go and talk directly with the people who had asked them. However, the way in which some of the proceedings were conducted slightly angered a certain number of the participants. Pat Kenny, who might have thought he was working on his own show ‘The Frontline’, due to the way he bossed the proceedings, allowed questions from the audience and the Twitter feed to go unanswered, much to the annoyance of many of the participants and at one stage even the Vice-President, who said she could not answer all the questions asked because they were all taken together at one time.
Throughout the Dialogue I eagerly waited for one of the young people I spoke with to have their opportunity to voice the concerns which they shared with me. As it turned out, they did not get their chance this time around due to a shorter time period available because of the late arrival of the dignitaries and because of the specific themes being discussed on the day. Unfortunately, there was a general feeling that many people did not get the opportunity to ask their questions. Perhaps, however, this was to be expected considering there were 200 participants who all held an interest in asking a question and a limited timeframe available. However, overall it is felt that the Citizens’ Dialogue organised by European Movement Ireland was a very constructive and educational event which informed the participants about many ranging areas of importance to Irish citizens, whilst allowing many to raise concerns they had with key dignitaries. Many participants I chatted with briefly after the event felt that they better understood the importance of the European Commission in Irish affairs as a result of the event and they felt that an increasing the number of these types of events throughout Ireland could only improve Irish society’s understanding of our role within Europe and vice-versa.