This article was written as a part of YMIP, an EM Ireland initiative.
Last Thursday, January 10, the Launch of the European Year of Citizens 2013 and the fifth in a series of Citizens’ Dialogues took place in Dublin City Hall. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánáiste Eamon Gilmore and President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso launched the year, an event which was followed by the Citizens’ Dialogue, a frank and open discussion between citizens and Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, and Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton TD. These meetings, in which political leaders engage and debate with ordinary citizens on the issues affecting them, are currently taking place in locations across Europe. Citizen journalist with Youth Media and the Irish Presidency, Isabella De Luca, reports on the youth perspective of the day’s events.
Three young people at the Citizens’ Dialogue who knew a lot about our current political situation were members of the European Youth Parliament, Eoin MacLachlan (Dublin), Andrew Forde (Galway) and Dominic James Gallagher (Tipperary, originally from Scotland). On speaking to them before the launch, they were most looking forward to hearing about the intended direction of the EU. ‘Ireland is getting a very bad deal off Europe, and they are taking it lying down. We want to know where Europe is bringing us in the coming years.’ Eoin, 18, believes that there is very little positivity surrounding politics in Ireland, and that young people in general are disenfranchised from the system, unless they happen to come from a political background. ‘The EU’s marketing is shocking,’ he added. The three students agreed that lack of education is part of the problem. ‘Politics should be taught in schools, like in Scotland where we have sociology and philosophy classes,’ said Dominic. ‘CSPE is just not enough,’ tweeted Brian O’Connor, a 19-year-old from Cork who was also present.
David Collier and Orlaith Delargy, both studying European Studies in Trinity College Dublin, were similarly interested in the future of Europe. Having returned from their Erasmus year, they think that languages are an important tool to help young people identify themselves as European Citizens.
One issue that Ciaran Lyng, 22, Emer Costello, 20, and Declan Meenagh, 23, were concerned about was youth unemployment. Declan had hopes that the Youth Guarantee would be mentioned during the citizen debate. This is a planned EU scheme that would ensure all young people up to 25 receive a quality offer of a job or continued education/training within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. When asked whether she thinks young people are listened to by politicians, Emer, a student of Politics and History in University College Dublin, responded ‘I like to think we are’.
Youth issues were at the forefront of the topics discussed during the Launch of the European Year of Citizens 2013 and the Citizens’ Dialogue.
At the year’s launch, President Barroso spoke at length about the Youth Guarantee, citing the activation of young people on the labour market as one of the priorities of the Irish Presidency. Youth unemployment in Ireland has increased from 13% before the crisis to just under 30% currently. ‘Together we will do everything we possibly can to stop our younger generations from going to waste’ said President Barroso.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore also spoke about the problems the youth in Ireland are facing today.
‘This country cannot sustain one out of four young people being out of work and Europe cannot sustain that level of unemployment,’ said the Tánaiste. ‘We have to get on with the job of sorting out the bank debt and with creating the climate in which employment will be created, particularly for young people.’
Later, during the Citizens’ Dialogue, when asked if the youth will be impacted by the impending need for people to retire later, Vice-President of the Commission, Viviane Reading, explained that it’s a case of finding an equilibrium that will suit everyone. Minister Creighton believes that ‘the first thing we need to acknowledge and accept is that young people, not just in Ireland but across Europe, are the people who have suffered most through this crisis… When we talk about reforms and cuts in spending public services, for example, young people are the ones who are now taking the brunt of it.’
‘If young people are going to continue to have faith in democracy, in the political system, in the European project, then we to have to give them some hope for the future,’ she continued. ‘And that means solutions like the Youth Guarantee are important in terms of giving people opportunities, but they are not an end in itself.’
However, despite the acknowledgment of the important place of the youth in Europe, some of the young people at the Citizens’ Dialogue did not feel like their questions were addressed.
Twenty-year-old Cian Power, politics student and member of the Students’ Union in University College Cork, was very disappointed that young people were denied a platform at the debate. ‘I travelled from Cork, no expenses paid, but it would have been worth it if I voiced my concerns about all students. But no, we were denied representation. The questions were given to OAPs and middle-aged citizens, not one student or youth. Myself and another two students had our hands up for over two hours, from the beginning to the end.’ In the aftermath of the event, Brian O’Connor, also from Cork, said he felt ‘quite disappointed by the fact that young people weren’t given a chance to voice their opinions, especially when it came to the EU in 2020.’ He thought the lack of young people at the event was shame, noting that the ‘group of young journalists comprised the majority of young people’ and suggesting that ‘a campaign should have been made, by youth wings of parties for example, to encourage young people like myself to go.’