Opinion: 'To serve, but not be served' - Limerick teen discusses 'scapegoating of young people'

'To serve, but not be served' - Limerick teen  discusses 'scapegoating of young people'

YOUNG people are not the enemy of this pandemic, the virus is, writes Caillum Hedderman, an 18-year-old from Ballybricken. Caillum made history when he became the youngest person ever to sit on a council committee and has been a frequent contributor to both the Leader and national media on education and Leaving Cert issues in the last year.

The scapegoating of young people at every wrong turn of public health policy has reached a point of disillusionment and hearsay to try win back some confidence among older generations, that will further hold an already present long-lasting effect on the next working generation of Irish society.

I would say I had a ‘run of the mill’ pandemic experience. I spent most of fifth year in secondary school sitting behind a computer, followed by a mishmash of a Leaving Cert, that I’m sure will make the history books. But besides that, I shared a similar experience with thousands of fellow young people across the country. I am now working a summer job, in a rural restaurant, to save up for college next year and just last week, got my first of two Covid vaccines.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel that we as young people have been used as an easy target to shift any blame from government or public health negligence from the beginning of this pandemic. 

An article published recently, after the rise in daily cases, in the Irish Independent read that "Young people intentionally contracting Covid-19 to obtain digital cert, warns HSE."

Now, the usual conception around young people is to be immature or erratic in our language, but this statement from a HSE official easily fits into these pre-conceptions, is purely hyperbole (a complete exaggeration) and represents only but a small example of the true scapegoating of young people in public health negligence or mistakes over the past two years.

Similarly, with the announcement of the Janssen vaccine being made available to the 18- to 34-year-old cohort from pharmacies, the approach was uncoordinated, as the pharmacies delivering the vaccine were informed at the same time as the young people ringing to book an appointment.

Then, as supply was limited, young people were painted as a cohort who wouldn’t take the vaccine, which was untrue, as across the country we have been lining the streets of GPs and pharmacies at the first given opportunity. Only this week as walk-in vaccination centres were opened, 18,000 people availed of the service in the first day alone, the majority of whom being teenagers.

With the introduction of the new Covid digital certificate and the return of indoor dining, young staff are faced with a strange situation. To serve, but not be served.

Only last week, I walked into a pub with my father after an eight-hour shift in a different pub up the road, only to be turned around at the door as I wasn’t fully vaccinated. Although it is good to see that businesses are following public health guidelines, children under the age of 18 can walk into a restaurant regardless of situation, so it is just the people awaiting the vaccination who are blocked by this, being the 18-34 age bracket.

That is just some of the feelings of young people towards Covid guidelines, if we take a broader look at Irish society, it is becoming more and more bleak to even imagine, never mind plan, a future as a young person here. My generation will be the first generation less well-off than the generation before them, according to ESRI research. Soaring housing prices, limited well-paying employment opportunities and a government who often seem to see us as an afterthought, all culminate into this societal driven ideal of young people as the problem, which has come to a head during the pandemic.

With a rise in political awareness among younger generations, the political commonalities that we have become accustomed too in the past may be rattled. According to recent polling (RED C), among the 18–34-year-old bracket, both Fianna Fáil (10%) and Fine Gael (16%) have decreased in popularity while Sinn Féin (44%) have risen alongside other left-wing parties. With a rise in left-wing support in the last General Election (2019), coupled with this year’s population wide decrease in popularity among traditional Fianna Fail voters and legislative proposals to extend voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds, the next Local and General Elections will play a fundamental role in dictating how Ireland as a society moves forward.

Mass youth emigration was witnessed during the recession from 2008 onwards, due to implemented public policy not supporting the basic needs of young people, basic needs such as employment opportunities and housing. The other need was acceptance and recognition. Acceptance of the common struggles of Irish people and recognition by government, through the policy implemented, that young people were not an afterthought or further to say, forgotten.

Worryingly, we may be in a cycle of events unless the government stop this blame game and start bettering their policy to support the needs of everyone, especially younger generations.

Any cohort of people can be berated and shown in a bad light by media to a sell headline or by government to gain political capital at any given time. There will always be a small number of people who will act irresponsibly, regardless of age, but throughout the pandemic young people have acted to support their friends, families, and communities, while facing the same burdens as others during the formative years of our lives. 

Young people are not the enemy of this pandemic, the virus is.

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