How do young(ish) people here vote? I ask because a couple of days ago I was listening to two thirty-somethings talking about the debate between the political leaders in Britain and the debate between the political leaders here. Their conclusion: the debate in Britain was far superior because the debate here dealt with the same old things. They lamented that politics here was stuck in the past; one of them pointed out that the Alliance Party was a ‘non-sectarian’ party and yet people here don’t vote for it in sufficient numbers to make a difference.
I can identify with that. When I was in my early twenties, I thought the old politics in the North was a bore, that concern with partition and Irish identity were two of the most backward-looking of concepts. It took almost twenty years for me to realise, slowly and grudgingly, that I couldn’t have been wronger. In retrospect, I think my rejection of constitutional and national identity issues had more to do with kicking against the values of the previous generation than it did with any careful examination of those issues. If the generation ahead of me was for it, I was agin it.
I’m not sure as many younger people today think that way. The Troubles and their aftermath have changed a lot of things, including how people see the value of being Irish and the indignity of being ruled from London. But there’s a possibility that, as the memory of the Troubles fades, more and more younger people will adopt an outward-looking political viewpoint which, while good in itself, undervalues the importance of identity and control in one’s own country. Younger people may find it chafing that our politicians keep on addressing the same old issues. The way to change that is not to divert public concern to other areas but to resolve the old issues. All the distracting tactics in the world won’t work if the gorilla continues to sit sprawled on the living-room couch, nostrils distended, eyes glaring.