Newly-elected Social Democrats Leader Holly Cairns said that “younger generations can see that we are different” in her inaugural speech.
Speaking at the Tara Buildings, Cairns addressed her fellow Social Democrat TDs, local councillors, members of the executive committee, and the press.
When asked by Trinity News how the Social Democrats plan to support students, Cairns said that “younger generations can see that we are different”.
When asked about the popularity of the Social Democrats among young people, Cairns said that “a lot of younger people just feel like politics doesn’t really hear them, or feel them or have really anything to do with it”. According to Cairns, there’s a “diversity in representation in the Social Democrats” that attracts young people.
Cairns also said that the Social Democrats are “doing things differently, rather than just saying that we are, and politics isn’t something you necessarily follow on a day to day basis”.
She also noted that “the same issues affecting young people, like in terms of housing, are affecting other generations as well”.
“We have a huge job in reaching people all over the country, every age, every demographic… and I hope [young people] will come out and help us reach other people.”
Concluding her speech, Cairns said that Ireland needs “more activists, more candidates, more people who want to work for a better Ireland”.
According to a poll conducted by Trinity News of 463 students, the Social Democrats are the most popular party among Trinity students, with 20.1% of respondents saying they would vote for the Social Democrats in the next general election. This is approximately ten times higher than the party’s share of national pollings, based on figures released last week.
Cairns was elected leader of the Social Democrats at noon today, March 1, as the only TD nominated for the position. She replaced Social Democrat co-founders Roisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy.
Cairns, aged 33, is the youngest politician to be elected leader of an Irish political party. Speaking about her age during her speech, Cairns said that she is a “member of the first generation who will be worse off than our parents, an entire generation whose hopes and dreams have been narrowed and squeezed by the political choices of governments who came before us”.
“I may not fit the stereotype of a politician, but that is not a bad thing,” Cairns said. “Let’s not forget that some of the most experienced politicians in the Dáil bankrupted the country a little over a decade ago. Some of them, by the way, are still in power today. For that reason, I embrace difference.”
When asked how she plans to target her “generation”, Cairns said that her comments about the struggles younger people face “are not a target at [her] generation” and she acknowledges that “the way things have gone are affecting every generation”.
Cairns said she was “unashamedly ambitious” about the next general election and that she plans to “help as many counties, as many areas across the country as possible to give people the option to vote Social Democrat”.
There are currently six Social Democrat TDs, four of which are from Dublin, one from Wicklow, and Cairns from West Cork.
Speaking to Trinity News about how Cairns’ leadership will affect students, Spokesperson for Higher Education Gary Gannon TD said: “[Cairns] will tell me the exact same things as Catherine and Roisín: go and create spaces for which students are not only listened to at a dinner party, but actually make the decisions and actually take on leadership roles.”
“That won’t change. That, if anything, I imagine is going to be enhanced.”
Gannon said that Cairns is “not far away from being a student herself” and that she “understands the needs” of students.
Gannon noted that the Social Democrats have students on their National Executive and that the Social Democrats “are the party that are actually going to be led by the students”.
“Students know better than anyone the issues we are facing,” Gannon said. “Students have always been a real value to society, so the Social Democrats will do what we’ve always done, have a very open door policy for our students, places where they can come and they can influence their policy.”
Gannon, who studied history and politics in Trinity, said that he has “a strong connection to Trinity voters” having studied and worked there for “eleven years”.
“The Trinity branch [of Social Democrats] comes to the meetings in Dublin Central. That’s not going to change, it’s only going to be enhanced.”