Young People, Youth Work and Inequality in Austerity Ireland

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 8:40 AM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
Maurice DEVLIN , National University of Ireland, Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland
At the outset of the 21st century Ireland experienced the unprecedented economic boom of the short-lived ‘Celtic Tiger’ followed by a precipitous collapse and a protracted period of austerity, disproportionately impacting young people. Meanwhile the youth population, unlike much of Europe, is projected to increase by more than one third in the coming decade. However, there is a return of net outward migration, the highest among the most qualified young people.  For the least qualified, options of all kinds are severely limited and unemployment the highest in living memory. Rather than celebrating the country’s ‘demographic dividend’ media commentary and political discourse portrays the dangers of a ‘lost generation’. 

We explore the circumstances of diverse young people in Ireland and how long-established inequalities are persisting while new ones are emerging.  Case studies of youth work responses to class, gender, ‘race’ and ethnicity, disability and sexuality show contrasting levels of attention to, and action on, different forms of inequality. A focus on LGBT issues has increased greatly while gender rarely features prominently either in policy and practice fora.  Despite examples of excellent work with ethnic minorities, a comprehensive intercultural strategy for youth has never been adopted at national level. Action relating to disability remains poorly developed within generic youth work organisations; and class inequality continues to be addressed (if at all) primarily through the prism of ‘disadvantaged youth’.  On the other hand, recent policy statements relating to youth place a greatly increased emphasis on human rights, equality and diversity as compared with those of the 1980s and ‘90s. A forthcoming national youth policy framework and a number of developments in Europe, if combined with appropriate initiatives both in youth work practice and worker training and education, hold out the possibility of a more concerted and coherent youth work response to inequality.