What Do Young People Think?

Over the weekend I was thinking a lot about my trip to Texas three months ago.The very last question put to me was ” What do young people in Norn Iron think? The question was put as we were all packing up and I was relieved that the previous ninety minutes had gone so well.

I replied …far too glibly ….that I am 60 years old and I dont understand anyone under 40 years old. The young man who put the question laughed but actually it deserves a better answer.

Frankly, I dont think that young people are a single homogenous group. At the weekend, speakers at the SDLP Youth Conference highlighted that many young people are disenfranchised without jobs and without hope. And there are young people at university …even Politics students…who feel alienated.

At heart people become interested in Politics when they cannot escape Responsibilty and want to hold politicians accountable….benefits, tuition fees, retirement homes, mortgages, childrens education etc. And of course within Norn Iron, those who develop an “early” interest in politics might support parties across the spectrum…Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP, DUP, Alliance.

I tend to hear two things from younger people in relation to the Troubles. One is….that the Troubles are ancient history, an irrelevance to their lives and they dont want to hear about it. They believe that it is a new world. And I hear others say that “nothing has changed”.Both attitudes sadden me.

The attitude that disrespects what parents and grandparents went thru….well of course they are entitled to think it was all irrelevant to them. But it is equally disrespectful to think that the very real changes accomplished over forty years did not happen at all. The Young Person who witnesses a lapse in PSNI (Police Service of Norn Iron) standards of policing and says “nothing has changed” will not realise that the abuse of people in Norn Iron by the old Royal Ulster Constabulary was pretty routine.

Where possible in Texas, I tried to point up similarities in the Civil Rights movement or Womens movement in USA with Norn Iron. Without seeing these as entirely apt comparisons.

But I am a 60 year old Catholic who lived thru the Troubles.

I suspect there is a slightly older black man in Selma, Alabama who lived thru Segregation. He might hear two attitudes from younger people there.One attitude is that the whole Struggle is irrelevant to their lives and the other attitude is that nothing has changed.

And I suspect there is a slightly younger feminist who hears two attitudes from younger women. One is that early 1970s Feminism is irrelevant. Or they will hear that nothing has really changed for young women today.

Who is right? Either way any kinda RIGHTS is an ongoing thing. Use it or lose it.

People like me dont really “get” the 21st century. Maybe the 70 year old black man in Selma, Alabama does not really “get” gangsta rap. He probably prefers Tamla Motown. And the 55 year old feminist who listens to Helen Reddy sing ” I Am Woman Hear Me Roar” on YouTube might smile at Cyndi Lauper sing ” Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. But does the 55 year old Feminist even know who sings “Dont You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?”.

Perhaps the most obvious thing about Rights issues is that those who fought for them cannot bind new generations. Does a younger generation owe something to the 60 year old Norn Iron Catholic, the 70 year old black man in Selma! Alabama or the 55 year old Feminist?

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14 Responses to What Do Young People Think?

  1. Political Tourist says:

    Do the younger generation owe their elders anything.

    I have every respect for those who struggle to make life better for their community.
    They enriched us all by their struggle.
    One of the reasons i enjoy reading your blog FJH is because of your age.
    Btw, you ain’t that old.
    Isn’t 60 the new 50?

    • Alas 60 is the new 70.
      Youre right …we cannot bind the youngr folks to our way of thinking.
      If we did. …there would be no progress ever.
      But we dont have to “like” the new world.
      And its not just in terms of Norn Iron.
      Its as much about attitudes to pensions, nursing homes, trade unions, workers rights, employment, hospital provision.
      Only yesterday we got a leaflet from Dept of Health telling us all how brilliant it would be.
      THere is really an optimum time for checking out. My observation is that it is 75..when I get there I might think 76, 77, 78.
      Really living just too long is not something to be welcomed.
      To that end, I am glad that I am active…blogging certainly keeps my mind active and as the stereotypical blogger is in his early twenties, I am glad that I am one of those giving an alternative view.
      Essentially I am a technophobe but I am …I suppose…a silver surfer.
      Have I aged prematurely with early retirement? I dont think so because I went back to Uni aged 53.
      Other senior citizens keep up to date with music, fashion etc (I dont).
      By the way for seniors…the bus pass is absolutely fntastic.

      • factual says:

        I cannot quite get over how early you retired. You belong to “the lucky generation” for whom everyhing panned out nicely – free education free university, cheap housing and early retirement. None of those things for the young. Unfair.

      • Factual..I have said before that I retired on Heath grounds and there was nothing “lucky” about it. If things panned out nicely for me, it has not been obvious to me.
        I think I am part of a generation that believed in FAMILY and did our level best for our FAMILY.
        And I never relied on the “Bank of Mammy and Daddy”

      • factual says:

        Full employment too for the older generation growing up in the 60s.

        Unfortunately the older generation – your generation FJH – have not only been “the lucky generation” in their times of growing up – but actually did a massive injustice to the younger generation. They sold off the family silver (privatising Telecom Éierann Aer Lingus etc). They destroyed Final Salary Pensions. Etc etc. They garnered massive debts, paid for by selling off state assets, that the younger generation will have to pay.

  2. This is the first generation without a historical living connection to pre partition Ireland, via the sectarianism of the state and security forces post partition and thus, the young nationalists don’t have that automatic politicising element in their lives.

    To me, the most basic fundamental of democracy is being able to vote in or vote out a government, something the other 2 devolved jurisdictions can contribute to but we cannot. Even as a small child, I made my own leaflets, by hand, in support for Harold Wilson and handed them to my neighbours. Even at that age, I instinctively knew that there was no politics here, and I’m talking about when I was 8 or so.

    IN GB, politicians are so far removed from the ordinary folk, usually in the game from university on. In the south, it’s a FF/FG job share manipulated by the media who are all cast members in the political panto (I love a mixed metaphor) and hence the shinnershock.

    What is needed is men that inspire but men that inspire always have foibles and foibles, or character, is not allowed anymore. In Amercia, we have Obama, the black JFK. Turns out, hes not even the Black George Bush Snr. 2 presidents before the great black hope, they actually had a man of vision, a man of foibles, a man of direction who, even when he did a Gerry Adams on the Monica Lewinski thing, was not even vunerable to be taken down and my god, the GOP gave it a go.

    Over in England, the 3 main parties are all tory. Not shades of tory but tory. I can’t think of one ConDem policy that Labour has said it will reverse when in power and we know what Blair did with regard Thatchers labour laws for some perspective on that.

    Ken Loach’s Spirit of 45 (have you seen it yet FJH?) is truly inspirational and is a motivating film on how working organisation can work. I’ve also seen Johnny Vegas and other such folk pushing The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist to their fans to similarly awaken them. Meanwhile, the MSM has resorted to the role of reportage rather than journalism. Save for the usual suspects, the BBC, ITV and papers are merely knocking out government statements without challenging the facts or substance. Contrast that with my youth when World In Action, This Week and Panorama constantly challenged domestic and foreign policy. Those same old journos get trotted on to TV to do the work that modern ones are clearly incapable of doing. If young people see challenge, they will challenge and become politically motivated.

  3. Political Tourist says:

    What exactly would be the issues that would inspire say, SDLP Youth.
    Looking from 2013 the two main planks of the Civil Rights era were sorted years ago.
    One Man One Vote, crikey doesn’t that sound sexist 40 years later.
    Jobs and Housing, are call centers and IT jobs up there with getting a British Army escort into Mackies.
    Housing seems to have moved on slightly since Cathy Come Home days and slipping the local dodgy councillor a fiver for houses you had no chance of getting.
    Did you see home ownership growing through the roof along with car ownership.
    And everybody and their grandmother seems to just returned from a week in the Tenerife.
    All very general i know.
    Jobs and housing are still there as issues but i don’t hear of unemployed groups holding meetings.
    Sadly FJH i agree with you in that the present set up might be around for 20 or 30 years unless events yet to come change the political landscape.

    • Necessarily people become involved in politics when isues start to affect them.
      Two years ago, I would have said that Tuition Fees were the big thing for Youth.
      Now Id say its Equal Marriage.
      And Jobs …theres alwats Jobs.
      For “Youth” effectively means “Students”…I think there are very few, if any, of the “Youth” who are not now…or have been “students”. Although thats probably true of all the Parties. To some extent they are all living in a bubble and issues that affect their peer group are given undue prominence.
      Id say that as they get older, some of them will wonder about being taxed to pay for nursing care for elderly. tHis seems to vexate 30-somethings rather than “students”.
      There was a motion about thinking about ending designation (unionist, nationalist etc) and I think most of the young people in SDLP would PRIMARILY define themselves as Socialists and very intersted in Europe. They certainly see themselves as very much part of the PES …the European Socialist thing. Badges which were part of the Conference Pack being worn….although the SDLP Youth generally wear thee a lot anyway.

  4. Political Tourist says:

    I’d guess most of the bright young things in the SDLP see themselves with a chance of standing, if not getting elected, as candidates.
    And if all goes to plan regarding the increase in C/N voters then most of the brightest or is it the luckiest will get elected.
    Maybe by then certain sections of the PUL community might broke with tradition and switched their votes to a vague Left/Liberal position.
    Then again maybe that’s a jump too far by Northern Irish standards.
    Btw, i’m still to be convinced the SDLP are in anyway socialist.
    Even by the standards of what passes for socialism on these islands.
    Gay marriage anyone.

    • There is really too many of them for them to realisticlly stand a chance of being MLA.
      Some have ” MLA” written all over them in terms of talent and Id expect at least one to be co-opted before the next Assembly Election.
      But in real terms establishing yourself in say Upper Bann or West Belfast or FErmanagh -South Tyrone to either succeed a current MLA or re-take a seat …would be better than rising above the peleton in Derry, South Down or South Belfast.
      The established SDLP areas will have no shortage of members of all ages jockeying for position.
      What SDLP have done is establish “shadow councillors” and to some extent all parties do this. And SDLP is hopeful of having a shadow councillor in all DEAs …more realistically in those areas where they have a realistic chance of re-taking a seat or winning one.
      Id guess that around twenty are in place…and I think the success or otherwise depends on the profile and energy of the person involved…many of them are Youth members. And as long as they stay involved, then some will have a good chance.
      Although it is “unspoken” a lot of this is about clearing out deadwood in some councils.
      And the fast tracking of 21year olds might be at the expense of 35 year olds as SDLP skips a generation.

      I cant emphasise enough that these young people SCARE me. They are efficient beyond belief and SDLP is not known for “efficiency”.
      There is of course an element of patronage involved. On any visit to Stormont, you might get the impression that SDLP is a majority party as enthusiastic volunteers and interns are all over the place.
      Frankly a political career is not about being a councillor… Speaking for myself I dont know if this is a green wheely bin week or a blue wheely bin week…and I would not be satisfied with that.
      For the forseeable future there is a maximum of three MP jobs going and an absolute maximum of say 18 MLAs. Add in Special Advisors, Press Office,political assistants, constituency workers and theres only about a maximum of eighty jobs.
      Of course there is broader politics…PR companies, the law, academia….

      • factual says:

        “I cant emphasise enough that these young people SCARE me. They are efficient beyond belief and SDLP is not known for “efficiency”.”

        Young people today are more efficient than the older generation FJH, because unlike your generation we just can’t walk into a job on leaving university – the era of jobs for life for everyone. Rather, today it is all about cv-building, doing your best, and competing with others for the few places available.

      • Er…Ive seen little other evidence of youthful efficiency.
        Building a CV is hardly a substitute for Reality.

  5. Political Tourist says:

    The SDLP seem to have come a long way since Gerry Fitt, Paddy Devlin and John Hume etc were begging people to stand at any level.

    • Well thats actually a very interesting point.
      I joined SDLP in May 1973 between the Council Eletions (in which I abstained) and the Assembly Elections.
      They were just one month apart.
      The thing is that in West Belfast there were four SDLP candidates led by Paddy Devlin.
      Desmond Gillespie, a local publican..well respected for his charity work was put on the ticket. Only Devlin and Gillespie…a very reluctant politician won.
      In fairness, he threw himself into it. And probably one of the mostbdecent people I ever met. Yet annoyingly he is almost airbrushed out of SDLP History.
      A lot of all this has to do with thefact that the old Nationalist Party was not a Party In the truest sense of the world.
      In real terms the nationalist electorate was never really offered a real Political Party.
      Although formed in 1970, the SDLP was always a coalition between politician Fitt (his Republican Labour not a real party) Devlin (trade unionist and Labourite), Currie (Nationalist) and three civil rights activists (Hume, Cooper, O’Hanlon). Importantly Wilton (a Derry Liberal) and Wilson (Republican Labour) were senators also written out of History. Wilson of course murdered by UDA in 1973.
      But the organisation of the Party was effectively the old National DEmocrats (Ben Caraher in particular) and an assortment of civil rights activists, nationalistsand voter registration people…this was actually very patchy….if all activists in all these groups had thrown themselvesvinto the project…including Vivian Simpson of Labour, things would have been different.
      But yes…its fair to say that in 1973, SDLP did struggle to get names on ballot papers (I think John O’Hagan in North Antrim is the one most often mentioned as being persuaded) but in effect the Troubles 1970-1973 set back organisation….and so id the complete absence of politics for over a decade.

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