HAVING just turned 29, Midleton-reared Adrienne Wallace, a member of People Before Profit (PBP) who is running in the European elections for the South constituency and the local elections, can speak authoritatively for her generation.
Based in Carlow, this graduate in humanities from Carlow College, and a former waitress, is now the campaign organiser for PBP across the south-east.
Adrienne, who reckons she’s the youngest candidate in the European elections, says politics has failed her generation.
“We’ll never be able to afford housing. When it comes to car insurance, I’ve forked out €7k to €8k in the last two or three years. That’s just to get from A to B.
“We’re being crucified in every avenue of life. I really feel it’s important that we get representation for the next generation because we have been failed.”
Asked what politicised her, Adrienne says her 20s “were shaped by mass movements like the water charges followed by Repeal the 8th. I think that very different politics set PBP outside the establishment political parties that have been doing the same old business-as-usual while things are getting worse for people.”
Heavily involved in Repeal the 8th, Adrienne helped establish Carlow for Choice and Kilkenny for Choice.
It was the water charges protests that first prompted Adrienne to become involved in politics.
“Ireland was the only country in Europe to successfully fight against austerity by refusing to pay water charges. It was a fantastic working class campaign to be part of. It really built my confidence in terms of outlining a new politics.”
Adrienne, who attended St Colman’s in Midleton, describes her background as working class.
“Mam is a nurse and dad is a kind of security guard. That really shaped my politics, seeing the hard work people do every day, out grafting.
“They say money makes the world go around. It’s not true. It’s our labour that does it; people who clean kitchens in hospitals, people who drive the buses and people who teach children. What we get for that is insecure housing, high rent and very little political representation.
“I think my politics is testament to my lived experience. It’s being mirrored across the world. Look at Bernie Sanders speaking about free education. Socialism is on people’s lips. People are starting to see confidence when it comes to the working classes.”
However, there is an upsurge in the far right. How does Adrienne respond to that reality?
“I think the reason we don’t have a very organised far right in Ireland is because there is a left-wing party, PBP, that is vocalising people’s frustration. We’re not saying be angry at migrants, we’re not scapegoating Travellers. What we are saying is that the system is genuinely set up to fail you. It’s set up to starve people of resources whereby we’re clambering over each other to get our basic necessities met. The left wing in Ireland is saying that the system needs to change.”
What astonishes Adrienne is her observation that Phil Hogan, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, who is from her constituency, earns more in a month than what she earned in a year as a waitress.
“It’s definitely a tale of two worlds,” she adds.
Adrienne studied English and philosophy at Carlow College. Over- qualified for her waitressing job, she found the work stressful.
“Waitressing is tough work with long hours and it’s badly paid. It struck me in that job, the type of life people have. They have very little control over it, they’re told what to wear and told when they can go to the bathroom. There’s no union.
“It was very hard to fight for wage increases. There’s this constant exploitation of people, a lot of whom are deeply unhappy. You barely have enough to get by. We need more equality.”
In terms of burning political issues, Adrienne cites the homelessness crisis as being huge.
“A big part of our campaign is to open up vacant properties and to start investing in and creating the jobs that would come with that. It’s not as if you could just walk into some of these properties. They will need people doing work on them. We are putting an emphasis on opening up vacant houses and moving away from the model of private housing.”
Adrienne points out that in the 1950s, there was a model of council ownership of houses that proved to work.
“There’s a move away from that and now, the focus is on privatisation, making sure landlords continue to get big profits. That has had massive consequences for people in Ireland. You see it every day, putting profits before people’s needs.
“There are more than 200,000 vacant properties across the country. And as well as that, houses could be built on public land.”
Currently renting, Adrienne says that she has started to think about saving for a mortgage.
“My friends are at that stage in their lives as well. But just trying to get a deposit together is scary. I think Leo Varadkar wants us all to ask our parents for money. I don’t think that’s on. He is so out of touch with what’s actually happening. Young people just want security and to have a space of our own. It shouldn’t be a massive demand. But it’s completely out of our reach in Leo’s Ireland.
“ In Carlow, the rent has gone up by about 9%. It’s not like it is in Cork city but it is consistently going up. Rent needs to be capped. It absolutely can be done.”
Adrienne, who previously ran unsuccessfully in the last general election and in a by-election, says she doesn’t know if she is personally ambitious.
“But I’m determined to bring about change. Only last week, we were in the council offices with a homeless mother and her four children. She was being sent from pillar to post. She had to get in her car with her children with all their belongings in it. They had nowhere to go. That stayed with me for a few days. That is not acceptable.”
Buoyed up by a desire to approach public life differently, Adrienne says PBP does politics differently.
“I have no intention of just going into the political world, filling my pockets and leaving again. I want genuine change.
“If PBP wins a European seat, we won’t take the wage. We only take the industrial wage and that’s across the board. We are coming from a place of change.”
Adrienne is encouraged by the engagement of her contemporaries in politics.
“I was always interested in social justice. I remember being at parties and down the pub. I’d be one of the few in the corner talking politics with someone. Now, everyone is talking politics. Everyone has an opinion. It has got to a crisis point so that you can’t ignore it. How can we expect people to continue with the level of assault on our communities? Nearly everyone I know has been affected by bad politics in health and housing. We just want change. I think that’s a very fair demand.”
When she’s not planning political strategies, Adrienne likes to go running, adding: “I enjoy trying to keep fit.”
She also likes to travel. Last year, she went to Thailand and Cambodia. While a second year student at college, Adrienne was involved in building a school in Ghana, having fund-raised for it.
“What I witnessed in Ghana was a good sense of community. In the cities, you’d see a lot of people in extreme poverty. In the villages and towns, everyone supported one another. There were very close knit networks.
“In this country, there can be a lot of isolation because of our living arrangements. It can be hard to reach out because of bad social policies. We have seen a huge increase in anxiety and mental health issues in young people in Ireland. It’s a sign of the times; a result of austerity and neglected communities.”
Climate change, she adds, “is also a massive worry for young people”.
Adrienne is currently reading a book about James Connolly, the Irish republican and socialist leader. “Maybe I need to get a life outside politics,” she says, laughing.
Certainly, for this young woman, politics is all-consuming.