Last week, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, made the following comment:

“Young voices must be the loudest in deciding our future.”

As partial truths go, surely that is up there with the worst of them. Not only is it an egregiously fawning line, it also speaks to a concept of democratic participation that is incoherent and quite frankly, nonsensical.

The Minister has on more than one occasion given voice to similar opinions, opinions in which she has displayed a rather touching belief in something equivalent to the infallibility of youthful insight.

It stands in stark contrast with the Burkean concept of society:

“Society is indeed a contract. It is a partnership . . . not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

It seems almost impolite to have mentioned the latter category given the fact that if the current Minister for Children has her way, the number of “those who are to be born” will be of a considerably reduced constituency (more on that another time perhaps).

In any event, proclaiming that ‘young voices must be the loudest etc’ also stands opposed to the infinitely more nuanced Chestertonian (GK) understanding of tradition.

“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”

Both Burke and Chesterton highlight in their own ways the reasons why we should not dismiss the Minister’s line as inconsequential.

One could argue that in fairness to the Minister, she did not exclude any of the ‘non-youth’ categories of people. She simply voiced her opinion that young people ought to have automatic primacy in terms of policy formulation that shapes the future.

It is would be a weak defence; but a defence nonetheless.

The question is of course, just how exactly would any of this work?

Perhaps Minister Zappone secretly wants to create a political structure where something like Dail na nÓg (The national parliament for young people) will have veto power over the decisions of the Oireachtas?

If so, the Minister might want to inform us pretty sharpish as Dail na nÓg is set to convene in Croke Park on Wednesday 6th December. The theme for this year will be Equality (quelle surprise).

Or perhaps, if Minister Zappone is amenable to a more pan-European/federalist approach, she intends to advocate for the jurisdictional dominance of The European Youth Parliament (EYP) Ireland.

The mission of the EYP in Ireland is “to empower the youth to question the world around them and come up with innovative solutions to global problems.”

That is a genuinely excellent idea, as is the idea behind Dail na nÓg. It is another matter entirely to follow the political philosophy of Minister Zappone and grant to both of them the lions share with respect to influence on policy formulation.

Finally; Minister Zappone’s comment is noteworthy for one more reason; her use of the word ‘loudest.’

In itself it reveals a kind of hectoring and shrill approach to political engagement and one that has characterised so much of our recent political discourse. Having your voice heard is vital; achieving it through shouting down other, less ‘strident’ voices is hardly a message a government minister ought to be conveying.

Posted by David Mullins