Ireland has the youngest population in Western Europe and with a strong economy Ireland has many opportunities for the young. However, young Irish people face many challenges. The pressures of a modern economy means it is more difficult for many people to find time to participate in voluntary sporting, cultural, political or social and religious activities. Many young couples are unable to afford suitable accommodation and are faced with long daily commutes. Recreational facilities for younger adults and students are often poor. Nonetheless Ireland is generally a positive place to be young. An excellent system of free education exists. Equality between the genders has greatly improved. Young people are encouraged to develop all aspects of their character and a generally young population allows the freedom for young people to excel in their chosen field.
Young Irish people are a highly educated open-minded generation. That said, the face of Irish society has changed radically for those less than eighteen years old. There is the first generation that has such an influx of emigrants and asylum seekers which has led to a very diverse cultural society. We would wish to run Euro-Med Programmes with our more disadvantaged urban groups and our rural clubs. In some isolate Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) areas they might not be exposed to other cultures. Therefore as an Irish language organisation it is important for us that the Irish language organisations are inclusive and accepting, as this is the only way to ensure a cohesive Irish identity. We want our clubs to have understanding, tolerance and respect for other cultures and for non-Irish speakers to feel welcome at our events.
For a foreign person like me, trying to be objective after three months of being here and after observing them and asking a lot about them, Irish young people have very big contrasts. They follow USA youth, like almost every country in West Europe, but they hold their traditions: one can hear Irish music everywhere, young people learning Irish dancing and their traditional songs, and they play Gaelic football, carling, etc. By the other side, it is nice for them to meet foreign people and they are used to do it. But in their history they were often going away and now they are receiving a lot of tourists and people who are coming to live here. They are open-minded, they like a lot to meet other people in pubs and to talk, talk, and talk. They always want to know about you and they let you know about themselves. This was the traditional objective of the Irish pubs: the community dining room. Finally, I think they have a strong confidence in themselves, maybe because they can easily get a job, and then, enough money to get what they want. I like Irish young people and I am feeling very welcome here, and I think this is because they are nice, friendly and they want to be like this.
Like in any country, the situation for young people will depend on many things, for example the socio-economic background the individual comes from, the family background, the area of living, and so forth. For the youths I work with in Limerick, the situation can be very tough to say the least. There is limited money and opportunities available. There is an incredible amount of violence both at home and on the streets of their neighbourhood. The situation is so bad that not even the police are allowed access. Many of the young people we work with leave school early for many reasons, for example because their parents did, because their peers do, boredom due to concentration problems, lack of interest in school subjects, and disillusionment with the system. The list goes on and on. The reality is that many of these young people are so bright. This is easy to recognise when you focus their attention on something of interest like photos and make-up for example. My own personal experience as a youth was very different from the above situation and as a result the girls I work with amaze me. They have defied all odds to get where they are. The situation within which they live makes getting through the system a struggle and yet they persist. I respect them profoundly for being strong individuals.
I would be of the opinion that only a small proportion of young people in my country are involved in international and European projects. Although this number is increasing, I feel that more young people are eager to get involved as our country is continuously developing more links with others. Young people in my country are becoming more aware of the different issues involved in each country, like democracy, racism and gender equality, but I would like to get a better and correct understanding of each issue and its position in each country. Young people in my country are also very eager to establish a partnership and relationship with other young people from other countries.
Young people in Ireland exist in an ever changing and progressive society. While this has many benefits it also has some drawbacks. While Ireland has enjoyed a period of economic boom, we are crippled with social divisions, social inequality and poverty of opportunity, which particularly affects young people in Ireland. Many young people have difficulty in gaining and sustaining secure employment. Although we have a knowledge-based society we have many young people who cannot find a job or are in a job mismatch situation. We also have a considerable section of the young population who have great difficulty in accessing secure long-term housing given the ever-increasing price of housing in the State. Within our society while we have many benefits derived from recent economic successes we have sections of our population who continue to exist in poverty. This material poverty and poverty of experience strikes our young people also, and the challenge is to combat and eradicate this poverty.
Young people growing up in Ireland are faced with a difficult situation. They are part of a society that has been in conflict for many decades and they grow up living with the consequences of this conflict. This often results in negative attitudes towards the ‘˜other’ and the continuation of conflict. Moreover, young people in Ireland are continually facing problems of unemployment, low motivation, alcohol, drugs, high tension and anger. Young people in Ireland are often complaining of similar things that relate to these areas. Given the opportunity to learn more about people coming from different cultures and having positive experiences with the ‘˜other’ improve the intercultural sensitivity young people have, reduce conflict and increase motivation. Having young people realise their participation and citizenship in Europe and the opportunities surrounding them also has a positive effect on the young population of Ireland. Finding ways of including young Irish people within the context of Europe is a key to building peace amongst a conflict-ridden tense society.
Ireland today is a prosperous country. Third level education is free for all, and consequently the majority of young Irish people are well-educated and live comfortably. But there are problems for those in low socio-economic areas where the cycle of poverty has not been broken. Also, many young people in our country are not Irish and they have come to Ireland in search of work and a safe life. They often face bad working conditions and bad pay in a country where the cost of living is very high. Young people in Ireland live in an alcoholic culture. Drinking starts from a very young age and almost all young people drink to socialise. But many do not know their limits and drink too much. A lot of young people are killed in driving accidents caused by speeding and this leaves an impact on other young people who have to pay high insurance premiums as a result. Suicide is very high among young men in Ireland. House prices are very expensive in Ireland and so many young adults live with their parents. For many young people in Ireland in boarder counties or in the North the troubles have not gone away with the ceasefire and the hatred and prejudice still remain even if the bombing has ceased.
Despite the increase in the general standard of living in Ireland in recent years, young people face many challenges, mainly underage binge drinking, and there is a need to create alternatives. Young people get many opportunities but these are not uniform and certain ethnic/minority groups are being isolated.
I think that one of the most pertinent issues facing young people in Ireland today is that of political apathy. The problem is a perceived lack of identity for young people with the political institutions that operate in society. To counteract such a trend, there is a marked need to challenge such perceptions in order to engage with young people, and to show the possibility for action and change. This can be done I believe through attempts to foster dialogue. Initially this should be done through the school curriculum so as to inculcate a sense of civic virtue and a belief in citizenship. It is through such a belief, identity, and ownership of the system that we can believe that it is up to us as interested people to change the negative aspects of Ireland and shift them into positive characteristics. This can be done by integrating the best features of other cultures while maintaining the positive attributes of our own for the betterment of all.
There is a saying that we must have a memory if we wish to have a future. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement is in place and there is relative peace in Northern Ireland. However it is easy for our young people to forget the horrors and deep pain that conflict brought. We must acknowledge that peace was achieved through great difficulties and loss. We must remember this and not take our peace for granted. The Irish Peace Process has entered new difficulties and the Stormont Executive is currently defunct. There are renewed efforts to remove the obstacles of peace. The objectives of the Irish Peace Society are to raise awareness among our young people about conflict and other questions which are prominent in our society so that we may have a future by learning from our past.