May 2nd, 2023 7:35 AM

By Southern Star Team

Holly Cairns near her home outside Skibbereen . Max O’Mahony believes Holly’s contributions in the Dáil, and strong TV performances, have given her an edge over others. (Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision)

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The Southern Star was honoured to host some excellent students for work experience in recent weeks. We took the opportunity to ask them about their opinions on politics in today’s Ireland. This is what they told us from their fresh perspectives

Straight-talker Holly really tells it like it is

With Turk Head politician Holly Cairns marking the anniversary of her second month as leader of the Social Democrats, journalism student Max O’Mahony (19) explains why she appeals to a young electorate, and he also posed some questions to her about her rapid road to success

WEST Cork has three excellent TDs – Christopher O’Sullivan, Michael Collins and Holly Cairns. 

But Holly’s incredibly quick rise in politics has made her stand out to young people as a symbol of rapid, positive change in Ireland. 

The recent appointment of the Cork South West TD to the role of leader of the Social Democrats, has seen her and her party’s popularity rise rapidly, even within days of her selection.

Holly left Ireland when she was 18, to study in America, where she did a course in horticulture and returned in 2015 to campaign for gender and marriage equality. The campaign gave her a direct interest in Irish politics. 

Her outspoken contributions in the Dáil, and strong TV performances have given her an edge over many other Dáil members. Media observers have instantly tagged her as ‘one to watch’ for the future.

To many, especially the young people who are desperate for change, what she says sounds like simply truth-telling. She has proposed many Bills, amendments and changes to laws. She has taken up many human rights issues, including fighting for the mother and baby homes’ survivors, and is also a great advocate for animal welfare.

What has helped your rise  in politics? 

I genuinely believe there is a strong demand for change. When I first stood for election, I had the slogan ‘If you want change, vote for it’. That was something that came up again and again on the doorsteps. People are realising that the model of two large parties, based on civil war politics, needs to go. We need to elect people on the basis of their policies, not on who your parents and grandparents voted for. I want to represent those people. The Social Democrats are a new and growing party committed to evidence-based approaches to policy and progressive principles. 

Describe your journey into politics 

I became interested in politics during the Marriage Equality Referendum. I had to emigrate after college but came back in 2015 to campaign. Then, during the Repeal campaign, I discovered the power of knocking on doors and having honest conversations with people. Three of us then formed the Cork South West branch of the Social Democrats. I stood for the local elections in the Bantry area in 2019. I started knocking on more doors and having more conversations. I think most people will know that I got elected to the Council by one vote after a recount. I ran in the general election the following year and was honoured to win a seat. 

I think it is important for people to know that you can succeed in politics. Only a few years ago, I was somebody who wasn’t particularly interested or didn’t understand the relevance of government to my life. Now, I am the leader of a political party. I know there are many more people like me out there. I am encouraging them all to think about joining the Social Democrats and even running for election. 

What are your plans for the party?

I plan for the Social Democrats to offer a progressive alternative for the Irish people. I know there is a hunger for change out there and I believe that the Social Democrats represent the type of reform and new vision that people want. They are tired of the same old politics and empty promises. 

The housing crisis has become a disaster. There are record numbers of families being made homeless. The average age of a person buying a home is now 39 and there are thousands of people in their 20s and 30s still living in their childhood bedrooms. The Social Democrats are offering real and achievable solutions, such as a real tax on vacant properties. 

We are also firmly committed to climate action. The government has published lots of glossy climate action plans, but Ireland’s emissions are going up, not down. We cannot afford to wait any longer. We need an ambitious plan for a just transition to help all households and sectors move to more sustainable models in a fair way. 

I am very ambitious for the Social Democrats and the ability of the party to grow. It is important to have Social Democrats candidates in as many areas as possible. For West Cork, this means running candidates in each local electoral area, and when the general election comes, it is about giving people in every constituency the option to vote for a Social Democrats candidate. 

So many people are disillusioned. We are a party for a new era – not defined by old loyalties and cosy connections. A core part of social democracy is the provision of quality public services. 

Healthcare should be free and reliable. Sláintecare, the national plan for universal healthcare, is not being implemented properly by the government at a time when health and disability waiting lists are getting longer and longer. We should also have genuinely free education and a publicly delivered model of childcare that would reduce costs for families. 

Two of our students watched the Dáil on Oireachtas TV and gave us their impressions. Laoise O’Keeffe (16) was a bit surprised at how bare our parliament looks at times, while Mia Scarlett (15) became engrossed in a debate on vat in the chamber 

All debaters know about eye contact

By Laoise O’Keeffe

POLITICIANS are people who make decisions about the state of our nation. They debate their views in the Dáil, on the days it is sitting. 

I have been on my school’s debating team, so I felt I knew what to look out for while watching Oireachtas TV. 

Some things from the chamber I noticed was that there were often very few people sitting there, and sometimes the room fills up, only for the people to flood back out again once the particular motion has finished. This may reflect the things being said there, of course! In the debate itself, the politicians spoke clearly and passionately about the topic they were trying to convey – with hand movements and eye contact.

They were mostly very professional and calm throughout their entire topic. 

However, during the recent eviction ban motion some started talking over the Ceann Comhairle, when he clearly told them to stop. In other motions, I noticed that some politicians were not looking at him at all. Eye contact is one of the first things you learn on the debating team. 

These same politicians were also making no hand movements, asking rhetorical questions and speaking in a monotone voice.

Inclusive and fair in their statements

By Mia Scarlett

 AS a teenager and an upcoming voter I was asked for my perspective on our current politicians and the Dáil sessions.  

I think our government is run excellently overall. All the politicians are very inclusive and fair in their statements. I was watching a live Dáil session recently, where they were discussing the problems faced in Irish tourism and the extension of the 9% vat rate. 

I was particularly interested when Denyse Campbell, president of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) spoke, as she had witnessed the problems faced first-hand. 

Since we will be the future voters and politicians of Ireland, I think it is vital to familiarise yourself, not just with today’s political leaders, but also business leaders. 

The discussion was very formal and informative to watch. At the beginning, I knew nothing about the topic, but after half an hour, I was completely engrossed in the debate. 

I also observed that even those giving a short comment stayed for the entire session – there were no people walking in and out. 

I enjoyed the experience and look forward to seeing more different politicians and observing their actions.  

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