Republican News · Thursday 18 January 2001

[An Phoblacht]

What young people really really want

A survey compiled by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) has revealed that Sinn Féin now enjoys the support of 24 per cent of second level students in the 26 Counties, only second to Fianna Fáil. It has also revealed, however, a generation of young people torn apart by the demands of an increasingly stress-laden and less reassuring society. An Phoblacht's MICHAEL PIERSE investigates.

As a young person, it is often bewildering when you hear people old enough to remember the recession of the `80s and beyond hark on about emigration and unemployment as if today's youth have been, by-and-large, born and bred with silver spoons.

When there are no real differences between Ruairi Quinn, who claims to be on the left, and John Bruton, who knows he's on the right, all that remains is spin and hot air. Young people are well able to draw their own conclusions
Don't get me wrong. There was little glamour in 40,000 young people leaving the country every year to find something more than a life of poverty and subsistence. But for many young people today, the Celtic Tiger, for all the greater overall prosperity, has proven to be something of a poisoned chalice.

What the growth of support for Sinn Féin among young people reflects, besides the obvious impact of the ending of official censorship and the by-products of the Peace Process, is a young population ill at ease with their own society.

The NYCI survey revealed that 48 per cent of secondary students have part-time jobs, while half of these work more than eleven hours per week. They also have an increasingly more competitive points system to deal with for Leaving Cert success, so why do they work so much outside of school?

Economic success in Ireland has shifted the values to which young people are expected to adhere, while simultaneously intensifying the traditional pressures for academic success. While they scramble for the vital points that may decide the course of their careers at the age of 18, they are also expected to drink more, dabble a little in illegal drugs, wear the same designer clothes as trendy MTV presenters and aspire to the same perfect bodies as Britney Spears and Ricky Martin. Failure to live up to this myth leads to disaffection and alienation. To add to their confusion, the myth keeps on changing.

While young people in the past were more sure about what they were rebelling against and what youth culture represented, young people today have been left in a vacuum of endless uncertainties. You wanted `sex, drugs and rock'n roll', well, now you have it, and little else. The sands of social norms are constantly shifting. Organised religion has been routed; the state has become less powerful than many global corporations; and cultural identity is less parochial and much more fragmented, increasingly influenced by standardised and trademarked influences purveyed by a media that offers only an illusion of choice and diversity.

Drugs was the issue of most concern amongst students, the NYCI survey found. Three and four on the list were crime and suicide, suggesting a running theme: alienation. What does motivate young people to take drugs or engage in crime or commit suicide in greater numbers than ever? Why do young men, especially in country areas, decide to take their own lives?

Our society is more and more influenced by the idolatry and transient fetishes of globalism. The old aspirations of marriage and family, or the more moderate images of success that were lauded in the past, are steadily being weakened by immoderate images of extreme wealth and plasticine physical beauty and glamour. These are the measuring sticks against which today's adolescents are judging themselves and one another. Those who can't meet the grade will find many easy routes to self-destruction. Those who won't are turning elsewhere.

In this humble writer's opinion, Sinn Féin represents an idealism from which other parties shy away. What the political establishment represents to young people these days is spin and sound bites, the politics of uniformity. Principles last only as long as the polls are favourable. From Fianna Fáil's Teflon Taoiseach to Fine Gael's Celtic Snail, everything looks like a gimmick. After all, when there are no real differences between Ruairi Quinn, who claims to be on the left and John Bruton, who knows he's on the right, all that remains is spin and hot air.

Young people are well able to draw their own conclusions. Sinn Féin representatives are seen working in their areas on issues such as drugs, education, health and anti-social behaviour, not just posturing on the TV. Sinn Féin is not tarnished by the politics of the brown envelope. The party is seen to stand by its radical principles and oppose the status quo, whether on hospital waiting lists in Tallaght or policing in West Belfast (or vice versa).

Many young people, convinced that real change is possible and idealistic enough to want to do something about it, are sick of a sick society. They may well want CK and DKNY, but they don't want a consumer society without a social conscience to rule their lives. Sinn Féin represents struggle, resistance, and the hope of a just future based on equality for all. Is it so surprising that so many of our young people want the same?

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