Far be it from TV3 or RTE to hold sway over all the debating fun over the next few weeks, as this week the Donegal Youth Council are hosting debates, which I’ll be moderating, on the 15th and 16th of February. On the 15th the candidates in the North East constituency will plead their case in Letterkenny, while the following night the candidates in the South West in Donegal Town will take their turn. It promises to be an interesting and illuminating couple of nights.
For starters this is a debate where the topics of discussion will be provided by the young people in attendance, and will be free to comment and ask questions of any candidate at any point. As young people feel more acutely than ever, unemployment, education and future prospects are serious issues in this election, and these debates will give a golden opportunity for them to directly question their prospective new TD’s on the issues that matter to them most, and ascertain who most corresponds to their own worldview. And even though a great deal of that audience will be under 18, the choices those candidates make after they’re elected will have a big effect on how the next five years and beyond of their lives go. And they know it.
Discussing election topics they wanted brought up on the night with the youth councilors last week was truly inspiring. The range and depth of the discussion, with young people ranging from 13 to 17 years of age, was seriously impressive. We talked for two hours but we could’ve easily talked for another two. Whatever and about the rest of the country, this was an apathy-free zone, and it was beyond refreshing.
It’s that spirit that we’ll hopefully capture on the night. There’ll be plenty of debates – three way debates, five way debates, debates in Irish, swimsuit debates probably – that will deal with technical issues, or sound like a theory exam, or worse yet just take shots across the room from each other.
But this debate will hopefully get beyond that theory, and we’ll see what the candidates really think and how their ideas will translate into action.
And rather than talking about oblique concepts like “the smart economy” or creating jobs” or “political reform”, the candidates will be fielding questions from young people living and breathing the situations they’re asking about, issues ranging from road safety to health provision to the school curriculum and emigration and many more besides. The willingness and graciousness of all the candidates who have so readily agreed to participate in these Youth Council debates just goes to show how valuable the candidates consider young people’s voices to be. And with the amount of candidates running, young people ought to be getting plenty of answers.
On the declaration deadline on Wednesday, there were a massive 20 candidates declared between the two constituencies, and given the dramatic events of the last couple of weeks everything is to play for. Not only that, but the state of play in both constituencies couldn’t be more different that the last election. Back in 2007 when the Youth Council organized similar debates, Niall Blaney told the audience that the vote was being held on a Thursday to make sure people who were perhaps going to their holiday homes at the weekend would be able to vote without problems. Not only is Niall Blaney gone now, but so are most of the second homes.
It’s fitting that debates featuring candidates that stand to change the face of Irish politics forever are being hosted by the newest batch of Youth Councilors, only in the job themselves a couple of months. While they’re only starting out on their careers in public service, their passion, interest and engagement is prodigious. They may not have a vote, but they have a voice all the same, and a big stake in how this country is run now and into the future. And that’s why these will be the antidote to televised debates.