Adrian Kavanagh, 29th May 2014
There is a perception that younger candidates did especially well at this weekend’s local elections. Having double checked the facts on this and number crunched the votes, I can confirm that this was very much the case!
At least 259 candidates, whose ages fell in the 18-35 year old category, were nominated to contest the 2014 Local Elections, amounting to 12.7% of the total number of candidates. This, of course, is relatively low proportion in comparison with the older age cohorts of candidates and is reflective of the difficulties that younger people face in getting selected as candidates, especially in constituencies where there may be a number of older incumbents blocking the way. Aligned to this is a “sure, your time will come” philosophy amongst some party members – a belief that younger party members should “serve their time” with the party before getting the opportunity to run as election candidates. The belief is that older party members deserve places on party tickets on merit, on the basis of long years of service to the party, and that younger party members should wait their turn. Of course, another factor here is the generally lower level of interest in politics amongst younger people, relative to the older age cohorts, which is reflected in the lower turnout levels associated with this age group.
But opportunities offered to younger candidates at these elections by the rising fortunes of the opposition parties and the increased number of seats being allocated to some of the more urban constituencies, particularly those in the Dublin region. In fact, the overall increase in constituency sizes nationally may have acted to further encourage younger candidates to run in these elections and also to encourage political parties to add these candidates to their tickets. However, the reduction in County Council seat numbers in the more rural counties may have acted as a brake in terms of working against the selection of younger candidates by the larger parties in these areas. With large numbers of, mainly older, incumbents already fighting for places on party tickets, in many cases no space was deemed to be available to allow for younger candidates to be added to these.
As a result, there was a geography in terms of the nomination of younger election candidates, as was also evident with the nomination of female candidates. Younger candidates accounted for 23.2% of all the candidates in the Dublin region, but just 8.4% of the candidates in the more rural constituencies. As regards the political parties, Fianna Fáil ran the largest number of younger candidates (62) just ahead of Fine Gael (58), but the party with the highest percentage of younger candidates was Sinn Féin (48, or 24.5% of all Sinn Fein candidates) – as it transpired, most of these younger Sinn Féin candidates (44, or 91.7% of these) would win seats at the City and County Council elections.
How did these 259 younger candidates fare at the local election contests? Quite well, as it transpires. The number of votes won by the younger candidates compared very favourably with the electoral performances of the older local election candidates. In all, the younger candidates won 251,458 votes, or 14.8% of the total number of votes cast at Friday’s local election contests. The higher proportion of the vote won by younger candidates (relative to the proportion of younger candidates in the election contest) was, of course, driven to a notable degree by the concentration of larger numbers of younger candidates in the more populous Dublin region, though this trend would have been offset to some extent by the lower turnout levels in the Dublin electoral areas. Younger candidates won 25.8% of all the first preference votes cast in the Dublin region (and 26.8% of the seats), as against 10.3% of the votes in the more rural constituencies. There were some very low vote levels for younger candidates in some rural counties, with only 1.9% of the votes in Sligo being won by younger candidates, 2.8% of the votes in Wexford being won by younger candidates, 3.1% of the votes in Laois being won by younger candidates, 3.1% being won by younger candidates in Waterford, 3.7% being won by younger candidates in Clare and 3.9% being won by younger candidates in Mayo, for instance.
It is, however, the number of Council seats won by the younger candidates that is especially noteworthy, namely a total of 150 seats. This meant that 57.9% of this younger age cohort succeeded in winning seats at these elections, as against 44.9% of the candidates from the older age cohorts. Younger female candidates proved to be slightly more successful than their male counterparts – 43 (60.6%) of the younger female local election candidates won seats at the weekend as against 107 (57.8%) of the younger male candidates. As noted above, the younger Sinn Féin candidates proved to be exceptionally successful at these elections with 91.7% of these winning seats, while the younger Fianna Fáil candidates (65.0% winning seats) also faring well.
Younger candidates won 49 of the 183 seats (26.8%) that were being contested in the Dublin region. Interestingly, there was a relatively even spread of these candidates across the main parties – 11 of these candidates ran for Fine Gael with relatively similar numbers being observed for the other parties, including Fianna Fáil (10), Sinn Féin (10), the Independents and Others grouping (8), the Labour Party (7) and the Green Party (3). In the more rural constituencies, however, younger candidates only succeeded in winning 11.6% of the seats.
Amongst the youngest candidates to be elected at this May 23rd local elections were Fianna Fail’s Adam Gary Wyse (aged 19 on Election Day), Sinn Fein’s Jonathan Graham (20), Lisa Marie Sheehy (20) and Mairead Farrell (24) and new Independent councillor, Karey McHugh (24). The results of the delayed Ballybay-Clones contest on June 17th also saw Fine Gael’s Eugene Bannigan (22) being added to this list.
Overall, the local election contests proved to be a general successful ones for a large number of younger candidates, but the relative number of these still pales in comparison with the number of older City and Councillors. New ideas and ways of thinking are vital in order to renew Irish politics and to promote the process of political reform and the increased engagement of younger people with politics would play a large role here. As such, further efforts need to be made to encourage higher levels of electoral participation on the part of younger people, but the 2014 Local Elections could be viewed as a useful first step in this regard.