‘I do get a lot of straight out of secondary school jokes’: Young candidates stepping up for the local elections

The local elections have captured the imagination of Ireland’s younger generation as they go on the canvass in the next few weeks

“Last week, while I was hanging up some electoral posters, someone told me I should be hung from an electrical wire,” says Dan Carson, a Fine Gael candidate seeking election to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

The 22-year-old computer science student, running in the Blackrock local electoral area, said he feels lucky that the “unbelievable” abuse directed at him on social media since putting himself forward is “not something I care about”.

A Fine Gael member since he was 16, Carson says it is a party he would not have naturally “fallen into” after growing up in a two-bedroom council house as part of an “a-political family”.

“My mother always said, ‘if you want something you have to work for it; that the world’s not fair and that’s just how it is’,” he says. “Fine Gael’s ideology of equality of opportunity is what stood out to me, it’s not a level outcome but it’s a level playing field. Where anyone can make something of themselves.”


Having just completed his college exams, Carson has taken leave from his job as an operations manager in Currys to prioritise his campaign, which will focus on the personal rather than the digital.

“Social media is not a replacement for meeting people face to face and understanding what they believe,” he says. “Most people are happy to see you, even if they wouldn’t vote for you. I wouldn’t vote for someone I hadn’t met.”

On a canvass around Woodlands Park, one of his three daily sessions, would-be voters raise issues such as traffic, healthcare and housing. “We’re probably the first generation of Fine Gael to not only understand the housing crisis, but to feel it also. I still live at home,” Carson says.

Though the party has been in government since 2011, he adds: “The housing crisis is not Fine Gael’s fault, it’s a wider, more global issue, but it is our responsibility”.

As he passes one person a leaflet, he jokes that he is not 16 despite the photograph. “I do get a lot of ‘straight out of secondary school’ jokes, which I find funny.”

Ireland’s youngest local election candidate is understood to be Sinn Féin’s James Stokes (18), who is running in Newbridge, Co Kildare.

“It started as activism,” he says. “As a child I saw my grandad, also called James Stokes, who was an activist for Traveller rights. I looked up to him.”

After completing some work experience with Sinn Féin, Stokes says he knew the party was for him. “Seeing the care, empathy and true passion of those in the office, they were so welcoming. They cared about me and the people.”

When Stokes started studying primary teaching at Maynooth University, he looked into having a public bus established between Newbridge and Maynooth. He collected 500 signatures and sent a petition to Minister of Transport Eamon Ryan, which he says this was “ignored”. This was a “deciding factor” in his decision to seek election.

“I want to be a voice for young people and for Travellers. I want my voice to be heard and to be for change,” stokes says.

Fianna Fáil’s youngest candidate is Joey Kennedy (19) in Graiguecullen-Portarlington, Co Laois. Despite having a cup of tea thrown over him on a doorstep, he estimates the response received from the public has been 90 per cent supportive.

He grew up in a Fianna Fáil household and went to party meetings from a young age. “I make sure I meet the people on the doorstep and hear from them. We’re old-fashioned in that way, but you have to get out to meet the people.”

He adds: “It would be a massive honour [to be elected] as the people have trust in me. The people I’ve been speaking to want change.”

Charlie Hackett (20) is seeking election for the Green Party in the same electoral area as Kennedy. His mother, Pippa Hackett, is a Senator and Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture. His father, Mark, is a councillor and the two candidates put up their election posters together.

“They’ve given me loads of support,” he says of his parents. “I do get some banter from my friends but overall, they are supportive.”

Occasionally, he says, some voters say things like ‘What would you know, you have no experience’, but most of those he meets on the doorsteps are positive. His goal is to be a “proper voice for young people” and he stresses the importance of people registering to vote and using their franchise.

The youngest Labour candidate is John Lonergan (19), who is seeking election to Dublin City Council in Ballymun-Finglas.

“I was on the student council in primary and secondary school and the Irish Health Foundation Youth Advisory Board after a teacher suggested it to me, knowing I had an interest,” he says. “Everything is politics from the roads to the lack of investment in football clubs, it’s an all-encompassing issue.”

Lonergan says he enjoys “getting to know the people in my area better” and that they “like the idea of seeing enthusiasm and a fresh face”.

“At the start, my family was nervous, but they know what I’m capable of and they are very supportive and helpful with leaflet drops.”

Fine Gael’s youngest candidate, Ben Ward, is running in the Tullow electoral area in Carlow. He will celebrate his 21st birthday on June 5th, two days before voting takes place.

“We had our Leaving Cert during Covid, and we didn’t know if it would go ahead. I was sending emails to Norma Foley and that was when I got interested into who was making these decisions and representing people,” says the UCD Politics, Philosophy and Economics student.

“I looked at the policies and the manifestos of different political parties, but the values of Fine Gael aligned with me.”

Mistura Oyebanji (25) is the Social Democrats’ youngest candidate and is running in Tralee, Co Kerry.

“After I graduated, I got my first adult job during Covid. I heard the complaints from the community. I was sick and tired with the politicians, so I began to research different political parties,” she says. “I was a big fan of Holly (Cairns). Some of my friends were more Sinn Féin but I didn’t feel like I fitted in there.”

Aontú's youngest candidate is Melissa Byrne (24) who is running in Newbridge, Co Kildare.

“I was always interested but I never felt like I meshed with any political party until Aontú formed. Soon after, I joined the party.”

She admired party leader Peadar Tóibín and Aontú's desire “to make people’s lives as good as possible, listen to the people and see money spent equally within society”.

“I see my posters up when I’m walking down the street, and my friends are sending me pictures of them. They’re enjoying the novelty of it, but they have been very supportive.”