By Tara Grace Connolly and Harry McCann

08 January 2019 - 08:57

Tara Grace Connolly
'I would be more comfortable looking for employment opportunities outside of Ireland than inside Ireland.' Tara Grace Connolly ©

Michael Foster TV

The Next Generation Ireland/Northern Ireland report found that young people had little faith in political institutions, with those in Ireland more optimistic about their country’s future (53 per cent) compared to 20 per cent in Northern Ireland.

The report asks people aged 18 to 30 about education, employment, social issues and politics. It was commissioned during the 20th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and as the UK plans to leave the EU.

It found that while 86 per cent were optimistic about their own future, more than three quarters of young people in both countries worried about their job prospects, and 88 and 79 per cent of Irish and Northern Irish young people respectively were concerned about a lack of affordable housing.

Queen’s University Belfast Law and Politics student Tara Grace Connolly, and Harry McCann, the founder of Ireland’s Digital Youth Council, give their views on the findings.

Do you expect to have job security and reasonable wages when you finish university?

Tara: Honestly, not for a long time. Young people are in a paradoxical situation. We can look for a job immediately after finishing an undergraduate degree, which could be underpaid or a zero-hour contract. Or we can stay in university and get an MA or a PhD in an attempt to make ourselves more employable, only to find ourselves over-qualified when we leave. 

People who leave school and go directly into a trade or other full time work probably have a better chance of finding secure, long-term employment in a related field more quickly than university graduates. In my experience, a lot of young people are returning to learning a trade.

Harry: I worry about this, and I think this is a huge worry for a lot of people growing up in Ireland. There is a lot of competition for graduate-level roles at the moment. Only people with the best grades get high-paying roles.

Unemployment is low, but being a young person isn't easy. Employers can take advantage by offering short-term contracts, unappealing working hours, and sub-minimum rates of pay.

My other major fear is how unpredictable the economy can be. I could finish college and the economy could crash again.

For these reasons, I'd consider myself very lucky to have job security and reasonable wages when I finish university.

Do you feel confident about looking for work outside of your country?

Tara: I would be more comfortable looking for employment outside of Ireland than inside Ireland. I believe many graduates from my course – law with politics – go to London and further afield to find a job.

How do your job prospects affect your state of mind?

Tara: The thought of looking for work after university frankly terrifies me. I’m concerned I will have spent thousands of pounds and wasted years of my life on a degree that will only marginally improve my job prospects and won’t guarantee me work in my area of study. 

Harry: I want to contribute to society and the economy. I want to work and I want to pay taxes. This is very important to me. The idea of being unemployed scares me.

Did your education prepare you for employment?

Tara: My school's motto was 'fully alive'. They actively encouraged work experience, extra curricular activities and community involvement. My secondary school promoted academic attainment, and was listed as one of the top-achieving schools in my region.

My secondary school offered an 'enrichment' course of our choice, that could be an extra statement on our curriculum vitae, and also prepare us for real-world situations. Some of those course were COPE (Certificate of Personal Effectiveness), first-aid, peer leadership, conversational Mandarin, and financial management. 

I took the peer leadership course, and learned communication skills, and to understand group dynamics. Those are useful today in my activism.

Harry: After six years in school, I'm not equipped with the skills required in the working world. The system does not allow young people to grow, learn how to work in teams, direct their own learning or to be independent.

Do you have confidence in your country’s political system? Is there anything you would change?

Tara: I have no confidence in my country’s political system; I would change everything about it!

I live in Northern Ireland, which hasn’t had a devolved government for nearly two years. The sectarian division often gets in the way of work on pressing issues such as employment, health, and education.

Little to no work has been done regarding catching Northern Ireland up with the rest of the UK when it comes to same-sex marriage rights and language rights, and these issues are often used as footballs in our unstable political climate.

Harry: I don't agree with every policy decision in Ireland, but I do believe that as a country we are moving forward. We have a stable government. When I look at the situation in Northern Ireland, where they have been without a fully functioning, elected government for almost two years, I am happy that we do.

What impact will the outcome of Brexit have on your life?

Tara: I'm an Irish citizen living in Northern Ireland, and I am worried about my citizenship in a post-Brexit UK.

I also feel that Brexit will affect the framework of peace and security in Northern Ireland by undermining the Good Friday Agreement. Our region relied heavily on funding from the European Union to rebuild and repair after The Troubles,and a principle of the Good Friday Agreement is the right for every citizen to declare themselves British, Irish, or both.

Open borders and freedom of movement between Ireland and the UK, as member states of the EU, is an aspect of peace in Northern Ireland. Any shift in this dynamic could threaten stability in this region. 

Harry: I have no idea. I don't think anyone really does. I hope that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remains open.

A lot of hard work went into bringing the people of Ireland together, and any change in the current border situation would put that at risk. I believe peace and stability should always be top of the agenda.

Are there any significant differences between your life and your parents' lives?

Tara: I am a post-conflict baby, meaning that I grew up in a Northern Ireland not ravaged by The Troubles. My parents grew up in 1970s west Belfast, an area active in the conflict.

I am also the first generation of my family to attend university. My time at university gave me an outward-looking perspective, through meeting people from different cultures, countries and backgrounds

There was little to no support for Irish medium education or Irish cultural activities by government, and celebration of Irish culture was minimised and often ignored by representatives.

But I have been able to access services and groups that celebrate my culture, and use my Irish citizenship with significantly more ease than my parents did. 

Harry: My parents bought their first home when they turned 23. The price of housing and the current rental market mean that there is a strong possibility that I will never be a homeowner.

Read the Next Generation Ireland/Northern Ireland report

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