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24 May 2007

The first time voter

Richard Morrisroe, sets out the issues young voters in Ireland are concerned about

By Richard Morrisroe

It’s a strange feeling to be writing about this, the sanctity of the ballot box and the secrecy associated with it remain paramount in many countries, especially Ireland for many historical reasons. But that’s all water under the bridge now, as the new feline Ireland purrs into the next millennium.

Many elections come down to the economy eventually, the self interest of the wallet moving hands on polling stations. What’s interesting in this Irish election is that it hasn’t. There has been so much of the good times and good jobs in the last ten years this is taken for granted by a lot of the electorate. The government parties (Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats) have made the economy the central part of their manifestos, but it seems that health-care and lack of infrastructure are the problems for much of the country.

For young people though (or at least this one) the issues are a little bit different. The massive increase in the price of houses has left many of us with little prospect of buying a home. Where once houses were relatively cheap in many parts of the country, the prices now are approximately 300K for a two bed apartment, in cork, where I reside. The prices in Dublin, the capital, are even higher. We are very lucky, according to our elders, many of whom left the country for work and returned when times had improved, and tell tales of walking to school through the fields. While this is all well and good, it doesn’t exactly help one get a mortgage.

The lack of a functioning public transport system in Ireland adds more troubles to our lot. One is forced to invest in a car, and then doubly punished for this by enduring the hour long traffic jams that can infest parts of the country at peak and not so peak times.

We pay some of the most expensive prices in Europe for many items not least alcohol. And then there’s the peculiar definition of ‘luxury’ for the purposes of VAT at 21%. ‘Luxury’ covers such frivolous items as clothes and shoes (but only adult ones). And all of this tax goes to finance a government which habitually oversees projects with an extra cost of anything between 10% to 200% above what was budgeted. The theme of wasting taxpayer’s money has featured large in the campaign of the opposition (Fine Gael and the Labour party), as have quality of life issues. The putative Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and leader of the Opposition, Enda Kenny have offered a contract to the people of Ireland, and by Saturday we should know if they have accepted it.

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However, on the television debate with the current Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern lacked detail and seemed to be caught out by the incumbent on some issues. The media has focused greatly on the battle of personalities between these two, but this may not be as important as it’s made out to be.

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Ultimately, the election will come down to 43 local constituencies, with between three and five seats in each, elected by means of a proportional representation system. Many people will vote for the local candidates they like the most, some more will vote along tribal and civil war lines (Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are the descendants of the pro and anti partition parties at the time the treaty regarding Northern Ireland was signed), some will vote on policies and principles, and some will vote for local candidates to represent local issues.

All polls show a very close election, and depending on how the numbers stack up, we could have anything from: a Sinn Fein – Fianna fail coalition; a fine Gael – Labour – Green coalition; a Fianna Fail – Labour coalition or any number of other unlikely coalitions. Single party rule looks exceedingly unlikely, which is fortunate. Of course some have been ruled out by the leaders of the parties concerned (such as Fianna Fáil and Labour by the Labour party, and Fianna Fáil – Sinn Féin by Fianna Fáil), but unlikely matches have happened before, and may well happen again.

Whatever happens, the small parties will do well, with both the Greens and Sinn Féin predicted to increase their seat total. These small parties could easily hold the balance of power in any next government, so all eyes will be on how they do.

And as for me? I’ll vote for the parties that reflect my beliefs, which for me is the Green Party.