I have waited 19 years to have this opportunity; An opportunity that millions of people around the world are not given. At mid-day, accompanied by my mom, I made my way to the local polling station with my iPod in my pocket, my drivers license in my hand and a grin on my face.
I guess you could say that I was a little bit excited as we approached the entrance to the hall. I whipped out the iPod and insisted that my mom took a picture of me next to the placard that indicated we were at the right place.
I wonder what the onlooker must have been thinking as she witnessed my strange excitement over something perceived as so mundane in this country. Usually I would be very self conscious about drawing attention to myself, but not today. I couldn't have cared less about what people around me perceived as I coerced my mom into taking numerous pictures throughout my voting process.
Casting my vote was something I found so truly exhilarating. I actually felt enormously proud that I, whom in my mind is a nobody, actually did something meaningful.
I used my voice and in my opinion , that pride was something worth documenting.
So if you haven't voted yet, get moving and experience that same pride I have.
“Hey mum, did you see the new trees?!”
“On the green and also all around the estate!”
So off they went to see the new trees. 37 new trees planted all around their estate. All the neighbours were talking about it, and everybody was excited.
One week later:
“Hey mum, did you see somebody broke some off the branches from the trees in our estate, and some of the trees in the next door estate have been broken in half!”
“No, I did not, are you serious?”
“Come. I’ll show you”
So of we went to see the broken trees. Five of the newly planted trees in bits! All the neighbours were talking about it, and everybody was disappointed.
Two weeks later:
“Hey mum we need to do something about the trees, if we do not do something now, there is not going to be a tree left after summer!”
“So, what can we do?”
“We need to get people involved, we need to do something!”
“Okay, you guys can do something and we will support you”
Four weeks later, 16-year-old brothers Juvan and Christivan Maritz applied and received a small Superhero fund from SpunOut.ie to make a difference in their local community. Here is how they got on with their project:
They designed a leaflet and a registration form and distributed it to more than 80 homes in the estate. They wrote to 14 people asking for support or a contribution towards their project. These people included two local politicians, a community project, the Gardaí, the local Council, local print media and local small businesses.
Their idea was to create community awareness and initiate a neighbourhood community policing system to keep and eye on the newly planted trees and general vandalism in the communal area of the Balruddery Wood estate. They also planned a big community festival on the green. 23 homes (more than 30%) signed up for the project, with more than 40 people confirmed for the Green Festival.
On 30 April 2011, at 5pm, the festival took place. The local pub, Balrothery Inn, sponsored burgers, soft drinks and crisps. Tesco Balbriggan also provided party goodies and committed to sponsor a signpost to promote the project.
“Ladies, gentleman and kids. You are very welcome at the launch of our Superhero project sponsored by SpunOut.ie. SpunOut.ie is Ireland's national youth project. Myself and Christivan applied for a small [fund] to make a difference in our community. We are one from eleven projects all over Ireland that are trying to make a difference in our community. We are gathered here today to celebrate our community spirit. We with 10 other projects were selected out of hundreds of applications to make people aware of caring for our environment. We are also concerned about anti-social behaviour, especially the breaking of branches of our newly planted trees and vandalism in our estate.
"We do not have an easy solution, all that we can offer is to create awareness and encourage everybody in the estate to address vandalism and anti-social behaviour. We have invited our community Guards. If you have any questions please feel free to approach them at any time of the day.
“To conclude, I want to say a special thanks to our sponsors Spunout.ie. Balrothery Inn kindly sponsored the burgers, crisps and soft drinks. Thank you Brendan. To Ann O’Brien from Tesco, who sponsored the sweets and other goodies. Today we can also announce that Tesco gave their commitment to sponsor a signpost that will promote the TreeCops Project. This signpost will be displayed at the entrance of this estate and will be a reminder to all that live here as well as guests that we are serious about our trees!
“Thank you for your attendance and special thanks to our community Guards: Gráinne and Kate, for coming down today. Enjoy the burgers and the rest of the day. Then lastly we are now going to plant a tree if the children would like to help they are most welcome.”
The festival was a huge success with lots of new ideas shared between neighbours. Three more project ideas emerged from the community gathering. One is to have street safety awareness training for the children of the estate in conjunction with the Community Guards; another one is to start a petition to the developers to put up a fence at the road side of the green (hopefully local politicians will support us in this regard as it is long outstanding); and the final one is to advocate for seating benches on the green.
All in all, the TreeCops Project was a huge success!
Activism = Campaigning = Organising = Community = Protesting = Building Alternatives = Challenging = Rethinking = Creating
We are all aware of the problems that require our urgent love and attention, both the local and the global; poverty, injustice, the environment, health, wars, resource distribution, politics and yes the global economic model to name but a few. But what I want to deal with here is the issue of power, and more specifically of us all taking ownership of our own power.
We do not live ‘atomic’ separate existences. Even the most reclusive of people live within networks of culture, of law, of infrastructure, of ideas, of education, of politics, and of the systems that deliver and disperse resources. These systems are all created by the actions of humans. This might seem a very obvious thing to say so maybe by now you are asking what on earth I am on about? I’m talking about how individuals and groups can affect these man-made systems and structures. In short, I’m talking about Activism.
The word activism is often taken as a synonym for ‘protest’ but if we use that shorthand explanation it can fool us into thinking that ‘Activism’ is not something we need to concern ourselves with. Not True! We are all ‘active’ in some way or another to create or sustain the types of systems we live in:
When we ignore or abdicate from something as crucial as our place in the world or our community and how we engage with it, we give others permission to engineer our society for us. By allowing others to ‘create society for me’ we are engaging in what we think is harmless ‘inactivity’ but actually manifests itself as a support for things as they are. To take the fitness analogy, not taking control of one’s diet and exercise will have a direct effect on one’s body. Not taking action on the issues that concern you will also have an effect on your society.
Think for a minute of the many things that we take for granted today in Ireland as rights or entitlements, for example weekends or days off from work, voting rights for women, the right not to be a slave, the right to have sex only by choice, the right not to be sentenced to death, or the right to choose our own interests and political affiliations to name just a few.
None of these ‘rights’ are things that were donated or asked for by some generous and wise benefactors. These are all things that people sometime somewhere saw as necessary. They imagined how they would look and function, and then came together to achieve them. I am certain that these people argued, disagreed, conceded and perhaps eventually settled for less than their ideals. We know though, that they continued to struggle and work to get these rights for the very reason that we now have the luxury of taking some of them for granted (though we shouldn’t!).
This work of achieving such freedoms took place over generations, and continued in the face of hardship and resistance. But those involved, to use a euphemism ‘carried the flame’ until these ideas became so firmly entrenched in our culture, that in some shape or form (and imperfect though their realisation might still be) these rights all became socially, legally and culturally deemed as the ‘norm’.
This does not mean that no-one here is oppressed or that we have perfect gender equality, but it does mean that our culture and institutions recognise these as things to which people are entitled; ‘standards’ is a useful word to describe them and that it is recognised as either deviance or criminality when these rights are not respected.
To summarise what I am saying here I will use a quote from anthropologist, Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.’’
In my opinion, getting involved with issues that concern you is one of the most important things a young person can begin to do. Have you ever heard about an event in history, or heard something in the news that made you really angry or upset? Something that really frustrated you, because you felt like you couldn’t do anything about it?
Well, getting involved with organisations like Amnesty International or Spunout.ie is one way for you to make a substantial difference. Whether you’re signing a petition, or helping out with a demonstration, there’s nothing better than the feeling that you can help change those issues that frustrate you.
And the changes can be substantial. You only need to look at a handful of success stories on Amnesty’s website to know that speaking out for other people, as a group/organisation, works: Aung San Suu Kyi was finally freed in 2010 after over 15 years under house arrest – thanks to thousands of people demanding her release. In 2011, Illinois banned the death penalty.
Many human rights activists and prisoners of conscience (e.g. Emadeddin Baghi, Mao Hengfeng) have been released due to petitions, letters of appeal, demonstrations and protests carried out by Amnesty International and other organisations with similar motives.
Although some of these achievements may seem small in the grand scheme of things, one small victory can have a ripple effect.
So, my advice to young people in Ireland is to use your voice. Don’t be afraid to say what you feel, even if you’re worried about sounding silly sometimes. You may be surprised at the respect you’ll earn from people (whether it’s peers or adults) from simply being outspoken. You may also be surprised at how one person or group of people, if they’re determined enough, can help change the world. Do not be mute.
Remember these sayings:
”Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say”. - William Shakespeare
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. - Mary Mead
Check out our factsheets and opinion pieces on engaging in society. This is a key area that the SpunOut Action Panel has prioritised for 2013.
Tips to help you take action and make a positive difference.
Ireland is a democracy, which means the people elect their representatives and government by means of secret ballot.
Joining a political party means that you are registering with a political party and letting them and the world know that you generally support their causes and activates.
One SpunOutter gives her opinions on whether the voting age should be lowered to 16.
Ireland is a constitutional democracy (you’ve lost me already SpunOut!). Well, this basically means that we get to have a say in who runs our country and what the laws of the land are.
The Know Your Rights information packs are provided by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL). They are a series of booklets designed to inform people about their rights, which the ICCL has rolled out as part of its Know Your Rights public information project. The booklet is designed to inform the general public, in clear and accessible language, of their rights in the areas of Garda search powers, arrest, interview, detention, provision of bodily samples and public order.
The State gets its power from the People of Ireland through the Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann). The Constitution sets out some of the rights of people who live in Ireland. We also have rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). All agents of the State, including An Garda Síochána, must act in line with the Constitution and the ECHR.
The Constitution is interpreted by the courts and is supplemented by more detailed laws, which must also be in line with the Constitution. The law must also follow the ECHR and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Gardaí must act according to court rulings and legislation, otherwise they may be breaking the law.
If you have any doubts about the way you have been treated by the Gardaí, if they have interfered with any of your rights, you should contact a solicitor.
The National Youth Council of Ireland, the Union of Students in Ireland and SpunOut invite you to attend European Parliament (EP) hustings around Ireland, to put youth issues on the agenda.
These events in Galway, Cork and Dublin will be an opportunity for young voters to voice your concerns to EP candidates and to hear how they intend to address youth issues such as youth employment, higher education, mental health, the environment, mobility and language rights if elected.
Find out more on www.pledge2reg.ie or confirm your place below.
Disclaimer: These are public events which will be recorded and by attending you are consenting to be photographed/recorded. Reimbursement available for public transport (bring receipts).
Here in the Republic of Ireland, we use the Proportional Representation by the Single Tranferable Vote system. That's a bit of a mouthful but luckily, it's more commonly known as PR-STV. What goes on in PR-STV voting? Well, there are two separate parts which, shockingly, are called PR and STV!
Since the independence of Ireland back in 1922, PR-STV has been used to elect members of Dáil Éireann to govern the country. We also use it for local and European elections and organisations, like student unions, also tend to use it. It's not the most widely used voting system used in the world - we use it, it is used in a different way in Australia, some cities and states in the US use it and a few other countries across the world. It's also used quite a bit by NGO's
PR basically means that the party seats are divided up by the number of votes. For example, if Fianna Fáil get 40% of the votes, they get 40% of the seats. There are 166 seats in the Dáil. Let's break it down into an example...
Here's how the Dáil is broken up at the moment:
Blue: Fine Gael
Dark Green: Fianna Fáil
Light Green: Sinn Féin
Orange: Socialist Party
Salmon: Workers and Unemployed Action Group
Purple: People Before Profit Alliance
The black dot is the Ceann Comhairle (Chairperson) - currently Seán Barrett.
This is the system used in the polling stations to achieve proportional representation. You'll get a ballot sheet when you walk into the booth. On the sheet will be a list of the candidates; be it your local councillors-to-be, national ones, presidential candidates or EU election hopefuls. Then, it's simple enough. You number the candidates according to your preference - number 1 for your favourite, 2 for your second favourite and so on. If you only want to elect one of the candidates, just put down number one. You always have to option to number them all though, if you're feeling really generous.
Once the physical vote in done, it's over to those hard-working vote counters! They'll trawl through the thousands of votes cast and figure out who is elected. The beauty of the STV system is that no votes are wasted. Here's a breakdown of what happens at the counting stage...
So there you have it - our election system in a nutshell. It's not really as simple as ticking a box and electing your favourite - but it's not too complicated once you break it down.
Initiate Now launched last week along with a host of amazing projects from young people in Cork and Waterford. The Initiate Now website is dedicated to promoting community development projects and other social innovation.
The launch showcased a lot of amazing work from youth groups including a local youth café, a cinema club, hair and beauty classes, and a music project.
Skibb Scenes is the community cinema project that has been a great success. Sixteen young people are involved in the project, which involves turning the town hall in Skibbereen into a pop-up cinema. Some Skibb Scenes tema members and their mentor talk about what they have learned and the success of the cinema in the video below:
Are you registered to vote? Some of you may know the answer; others won't. First off, see if you're on the register of electors here If you're registered, great. If not, don't worry! You've some time left.
The annual electoral register is normally published in February each year, however you can still apply for inclusion on the supplementary electoral register until May 6th.
That gives you a while to get your name down on that list before the deadline - the local and European elections are on May 23rd and they're pretty important. We'll be deciding who makes important decisions for us on our doorsteps, as well as in the EU. Register, and have your say.
Registering to vote is simpler than you think. It'll be dealt with by your local authority - your county or city council. Generally, this will be the council in the locality where you grew up. All you need to do is pop down to your local council's offices and pick up an RFA1 form, or just head on over to checktheregister.ie to download the relevant form. This is the easiest way to register - the form needs to be filled in by you then you just pop down to a Garda station who needs to verify that it is, in fact, you who's registering.
Once this is done, your details will be added to the register of electors and you'll be able to vote in local, national and European elections (once you're eligible, that is)
If you're over 18 and an Irish citizen, you're sorted. You can vote for any person in any election for as long as you live in Ireland! If you don't meet those criteria, things can be a tad more difficult. Fear not, though, you still might be eligible to vote!
If you're a non-Irish citizen and want to vote in the elections here, you'll need to be an Irish resident since at least September of last year and, of course, be over 18. You'll still need to register, though, so make sure you fit at least one of these criteria and get yourself the right form and get your name down on that list!
This is always an awkward one. Many young Irish people are living in different parts of the country for college or work, living abroad or on holidays when the elections roll around. If, for one of these reasons or any other reason, you can't make it to your local polling station on May 23rd, there could be a way around it. For college students, it can be a tad awkward because you're not technically living away from home full time! There's not much point in registering to vote in your college town if you'll be back home for the summers and possibly living in a different area after you graduate. This also poses a problem for people with an illness or disability!
If you can't make it home on May 23rd but want to vote, there is a way to do it. It's a very high-tech method of voting - postal voting. Exciting, right? Basically, you'll get your ballot sheet in the post and be able to fill it in, as per instructions, pop it in the post and your vote is in. Sorted!
Unfortunately, for Irish citizens living oversees, you can't avail of this method of voting. Expats are excluded from the register of electors. The only exception to this is if you are a soldier (or soldier's spouse) so if that's you - get in touch with your local authority about voting from overseas.
All of the forms you could possibly need to register to vote, change your details or whatever else you may need to do can be found here. Get downloading and register to vote - this is your chance to have your say.
Right now, Ireland’s future leaders are 16 and never off Facebook. They go out to the teenage disco once a month and they argue with their parents and siblings almost constantly. They might have purple hair or too many piercings, and the main problem in their life is finding a boyfriend or asking that girl to the cinema. The future is growing up around us as we speak and this is the most important group in our society. Yet why are so few interested in politics?
The National Parliament of Ireland is known as The Oireachtas. It consists of Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann and The President. The Constitution of Ireland which is known as Bunreacht na hÉireann outlines all the powers that the houses of The Oireachtas have, as well as their functions.
Dáil Éireann is Ireland’s House of Representatives and each of it’s 166 members is elected in by the people of Ireland. These representatives are known as TDs (Teachtaí Dála). Every citizen is entitled to vote once they are over the age of 18. Ireland is divided into different sized areas known as constituencies and each may elect three, four or five TDs. As well as representing their constituencies, TDs duties include attending meetings, meeting with constituents and attending Dáil Éireann to debate on various issues of importance.
The members of the Dáil vote in who they want to assume the position of Taoiseach, this is Ireland’s version of a Prime Minister and is head of Dáil Éireann.
Seanad Éireann consists of 60 members which are known as Senators and these are elected in four different ways. 43 Senators are elected from five panels, 3 Senators are elected by graduates of the National University of Ireland, 3 Senators are elected by graduates from Trinity College and the final 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach. Although there is no particular representation of one political party in Seanad Éireann, the strength of the parties in the Dáil is reflected in the Senate.
County, town and city councils as well as county boroughs are known as local governments. The members here are called councilors and they look after their local area. Councils act as a middle man between the ordinary person and parliament.
When you begin to become interested in politics all the different parties can be confusing. These are broken up into left wing, right wing and centralist parties. This simply means their policies and beliefs are a bit different. Currently in Ireland our main parties are Fine Gael, Labour , Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. All of these parties have youth organisations that you can get involved in and would be worth getting in touch with. If you ever join a party you can always leave. Many high profile politicians in Ireland were members of different parties when they started out.
The next general election will be held in 2016, the anniversary of the 1916 Easter rising. If you are eligible to vote, why not start researching now and make your vote count. We are inclined to vote the same way as our parents do and their parents before them. But you are better off forming your own opinion. There is also talk of politics being introduced as a subject in secondary schools. This move would completely change the Irish political landscape and breed an entire new group of potential politicians.
Young people feel daunted by the subject and lots of them think they can’t understand it. Maybe you feel it’s only for grey haired men or perhaps you think it doesn’t affect you. It’s these attitudes that are completely wrong and have got to change. Politics is all around us and is something that we can all be involved in. There is nothing stopping you making a difference in your community right now, and who knows, maybe someday you’ll end up in Dáil Éireann.
You'll probably know that the local elections are coming up - it's pretty hard to ignore the giant posters that are scattered all over the country. While familiar faces are popping up on telephone poles all around you, you might not actually know the ins and outs of local politics - what your local councillors actually do once they're elected! Local councils kind of get overlooked in the media, when the Dáil is dominating the headlines, but it's equally as important - politics start on your doorstep. Here's a look at everything you need to know about local councils!
Well firstly, there's a few different types of councils. The type of council you have is dependent on where you are. The councils we have now will soon be adjusted to suit the new Local Council Reforms which will see town councils abolished and the number of councillors reduced. But, for now, these are the types of council we have in Ireland!
There are 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland - but we've got 29 county councils! Why, you ask? Well first off, Tipperary have two. They divide the county in two separate political constituencies - North and South Tipperary. County Dublin is also divided up in a few separate councils. It may not be the biggest county geographically but it certainly has the biggest population, for sure. In total, we've a population of just over 4.5 million - and Dublin alone is home to 1.2 million of us, so we'll let the Dubs away with their several councils.
At the moment, we've got five major cities in Ireland - Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. Each of these cities has its own council at the moment. Galway, Cork, Limerick and Waterford have separate city and county councils and Dublin has four councils - South Dublin County Council, Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. After the reforms come in, county and city councils will be combined to reduce the amount of councillors in smaller cities. Dublin will still need its several councils but the smaller cities will be combined with the counties and have an overall council.
There are just five borough councils in Ireland - Kilkenny, Wexford, Sligo, Clonmel and Drogheda. The only difference between a borough council and a town council is the number of councillors elected - the powers of each are the same.
We'll only have town councils in the Republic of Ireland for a short while more - they'll be abolished by the time June rolls around and the reforms take over. For now, though, here's a bit about them! There are 75 town councils across the country, excluding those five borough councils. These range from governing populations of just over 1000 to anything up to 37,000.
All of these councils have similar powers and functions - just on various levels. Most of the main rules and regulations trickle down from the national government. It's not quite like in the US, where each of the 50 states has more power at a state-level than our counties do. The county, city, borough and town councils receive state funding to run their individual areas. With this money, the councils look after our roads when they need repairing, they sort out planning applications and they're in charge of things like sanitation and libraries. Aside from the government, lot of money for local councils come from charges they apply to us, such as the fee for planning permission for your house.
Councillors at a local level meet regularly to discuss issues of importance to the local community. These meetings are open to the press and you'll often see stories in your local newspapers or hear them on the radio about "motions being tabled" by a local councillor. If you or anyone else in the community has a concern about something, going to a councillor can get this concern to the meetings where (if you're in luck!) action will be taken. Major issues can be taken to the Dáil but most of the issues on your doorstep can be sorted by your local councillors.
The reforms to our local councils are coming up very quickly - the new intake of councillors will be the first to be elected to the new system. Your current town councillors will be the country's last! Why are we reforming? One of the main reasons is the newfound urban sprawl. Traditionally, people have moved from rural areas to towns or cities but during the Celtic Tiger years, the opposite happened. Cheaper housing in rural areas and better transport services meant that people could have the best of both worlds - country life, while working in the cities and towns. This left the awkward situation of urban areas with tiny populations having their own councils, when there was no need! So, if you think about it that way, the reforms are pretty justified!