My experience with Edmund Lynch

I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of the legacy-leaving Edmund Lynch. I was heading to the airport in June and I was sitting at the bus stop on O’Connell street. I was wearing a pride flag pin on my jumper. 

Edmund was standing there, and he pointed out my pin and showed me his. We chatted, he asked to see a ring I was wearing that had a hidden pride flag, and when the bus came, we sat beside each other and talked the entire journey to Dublin Airport.

He explained how he was collecting his husband who flew in. He chatted me through his experience from the beginning of the LGBTQ+ Movement in Ireland and his part in the fight for equality, while we also talked about my experience growing up gay in a new Ireland, but also rural Ireland and the struggles we both faced.

I bid him farewell at the airport, and I spent the entire 9 hour flight to Seattle thinking about our conversation. During the week, I typed out a message to him but got distracted and left it as a draft. 

I really regret not sending that message, but I will be forever grateful for the conversation we had and the difference he made on the lives of so many LGBTQ+ people. Rest in peace Edmund.

Opinion: Cost of College - Will the government make the right call?

by Jamie Mac Giolla Bháin

Students who made the transition to third-level education this autumn are observing the highest costs of education, living, and accommodation in the history of the state. Families who are already struggling to make ends meet cannot afford to send their children to college and therefore, many college-hopefuls will be financially forced out of attending college this academic year. 

For the Leaving Certificate Class of 2023 who received their results last month, securing college accommodation continues to be harder than ever. This is, in part, due to the delay of results and the skyrocketing cost of housing and accommodation which is also a growing problem. A survey of third-level students last year found that a staggering 49% of students felt the accommodation crisis was having a negative impact on their college experience. 

This is also true for returning students, with many having to drop out of college because the costs of living, accommodation and education have become extremely unaffordable since they began their studies. Since a plethora of students cannot find on-campus accommodation or a place to live in the close vicinity of their college, an increasing number will be forced to commute every day to attend lectures. This increased use of public transport undoubtedly places an extra burden on families and their finances. 

Last year, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, announced a waiver of €1,000 on all third-level college fees. He stated that there was “much more to come” in terms of measures to assist with “putting money back in families pockets”. However, as many more difficulties came with the non-slowing effects of the cost of living crisis, the over 200,000 third-level students in Ireland are wondering if the Government will actually take into consideration the demanding climate and cut the fees by an additional amount this year. 

In a response to a parliamentary question, Minister Harris revealed the costs associated with either reducing or abolishing the student contribution fee. He noted that it would cost €138 million to reduce the Student Contribution Fee by 50% (down to €1,500), and a further €255 million to abolish it altogether. The Government of Ireland has a €65b 'Rainy-Day Fund', and as thousands of students and families across the country would tell you, they feel the need for extra financial support. Therefore, it would only 'cost' the government less than 0.4% of the 'Rainy-Day Fund' to abolish the Student Contribution Fee in Budget 2024. 

The Minister has already hinted at this; 'I am a great believer that when a once-off measure works, it should certainly be considered again.' But when it comes to certainty, we need clarification sooner rather than later as students and their families continue to pump money into colleges where we claim that education is ‘free’. 

As the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) have recently advertised, it is raining now. The Government must make the right decision. By extending the waiver by a further €1,000 and therefore lowering the Student Contribution Fee to the same, two-hundred thousand families will be spared €2,000. This would pave the way for a full abolition in the 2024/25 academic year. Will the government make the right decision and lower the Student Contribution Fee, or will tens of thousands of students and families be left in limbo, wondering will they even get the chance to be exploited by the sky-high accommodation, transport and grocery rates across the country? 

Published the 3rd of October, 2023

Opinion: State must stop treating young people as substandard with sub-minimum wage

by Saoirse Exton and Jamie Mac Giolla Bháin

In 2019, the planet watched as young people took to the streets. We had never seen such power coming directly from the hands of the youth, and that power influenced other young people to join in and call for climate action. Young people were seen as citizens, people with valid opinions and valid electoral influence, even if they were too young to vote.

Many of us who participated in those initial strikes and the organising that followed are now older. We grew up within a movement of social change, where we were constantly lionised for our eloquence, our understanding of certain concepts beyond our years and so on and so forth. And yet the politicians who owe their positions directly to these young people, clearly continue to view us as irrelevant and inconsequential. 

The sub-minimum wage allows for young people below the age of 20 to be paid at decreasing rates dependent on age. The common argument against its abolition centres on businesses not being able to afford higher wages. According to this argument, standard wages would affect business viability and consumer prices. In theory, having a lower minimum wage for certain employees should alleviate some of the stresses of inflation on costs of production, thus reducing prices for consumers and increasing consumer demand which inevitably has a positive effect on profit. 

But classical economics also states that wages should equal productivity. Again, in theory, (a theory, by the way, which governs the way most of our economy operates, if not all of it) a worker who is producing the same output as another worker should be paid the same amount. By paying young people less, the government is stating, loud and clear, that we are simply not as good as older employees. 

But this way of thinking is outdated and ties into a wider conversation about ageism in our systems, particularly as a person reaches legal adulthood at the age of 18. Is there really that much difference between someone who is 19 and someone who is 20? A 19 year old is most likely no less qualified than they will be a year later. They will not develop super-human strength or productivity on the night of their 20th birthday, or suddenly become financially independent. It is evident that age is not the primary factor in the decision to maintain the sub-minimum wage.

The irony of economic rationalism as a defence mechanism against any form of social change, is that when politicians and businesses make excuses on the basis of decreasing costs of production, or increasing efficiency by paying their workers less, they are actually actively contradicting the classical economic theory on which they are supposedly basing their arguments. 

For example, let’s accept that young people are paid less and are therefore less productive. If they are less productive, they are less efficient, and thus create long-term costs for the business. So, following this logic, why employ young people at all if they lack that productivity that magically appears on their 20th birthday? By employing workers who are, in theory, less efficient than their older counterparts by virtue of their age, a business is theoretically contributing to market failure by inefficiently allocating their resources. It is obvious that productivity is not tied to age, and this proves once again that the sub-minimum wage is discriminatory. 

The biggest assumption we make, however, is seeing everything through a purely economics-based lens. Because while politicians debate our wages, young people are forced to watch from the outside, waiting until someone speaks for us. By paying young people lower, the implication is that real, genuine work carried out by younger people at the expense of time they could have spent studying and with friends, is less than that of their older colleagues. And this, unequivocally, is discrimination.

The argument which often arises that young people should not be hired by employers solely because they lack experience is deeply flawed and unjust. Experience should not be the sole criterion for hiring decisions. Young individuals bring fresh perspectives, enthusiasm, and a hunger to learn and grow and now more than ever, to contribute to the world around them. By denying them employment opportunities based solely on their age, we not only overlook their potential but also perpetuate a cycle of exclusion and inequality. It is crucial to recognise that everyone starts their professional journey without experience, regardless of their age. Young workers possess valuable skills, including adaptability, technological proficiency, and a willingness to take risks. 

Employers should focus on nurturing talent, providing mentorship, and offering training opportunities to harness the potential of young workers, not the amount they are going to pay them for the work they do. Embracing diversity in age and experience creates a dynamic and inclusive workforce that fosters innovation and drives progress. We must reject discriminatory assumptions about young people's abilities and champion equal opportunities for all in the labour market.

Perhaps in the era when our leaders were young, they worked solely for extra pocket money, and lived in homes where they were supported both financially and personally by their parents. But times have changed, as so many older people often point out. For many young people, the wages they earn are now their sole sources of income. Rising homophobia and transphobia forces many young people to leave their homes. Inflation, caused largely by government incompetence, has pushed up the cost of living. Young people’s income is often used to provide substantial support to both the young person themself, and their family. To assume every young person simply works to pass the time, or to save up for their leisure time later on, is idealistic and naive, words commonly thrown at young people when we call for our needs to be addressed.

We must recognise that the time for outdated ageism is over, and that it is only through the recognition of young people as genuine citizens and contributors to society that we will secure a better and more equitable future. If we are powerful enough, and important enough, to contribute to society as change-makers, surely we are important enough to be paid the same wage as those slightly older than us. As we move towards the implementation of the living wage from 2026 onwards, we must begin the process of securing equal pay for equal work by ensuring a linear wage for all workers. We, the youth, should not have to wait until we can sit in the seats of decision-makers to enjoy equal opportunity. Implementing changes for the future begins in the present.

Published the 3rd of July, 2023