Meet Cork's youngest General Election candidate

Meet Cork's youngest General Election candidate

Cork County Councillor James O'Connor is Cork's youngest general election candidate. Pictured deputising for the Mayor of County Cork at Pride By The Sea in Claycastle Beach, Youghal. Pic: John Hennessy

Ireland's second-youngest general election candidate hails from Youghal and is already involved in politics, with the 22-year-old taking a seat in Cork County Council last year.

Councillor James O'Connor is the youngest Cork candidate in this year's general election, set for Saturday, February 8.

He says it was a "huge honour" to be put on the ticket.

The Fianna Fáil politician says as a young person himself, he is acutely aware of the challenges facing the youth of Ireland. He believes the lack of housing and the price of rent is one of the biggest issues.

Transport is another area Cllr O'Connor plans to tackle if elected. "I brought Bus Éireann and the National Transport Authority to the table over the Route 40 prices for East Cork.

"In 2014, when I was a TY student, I was involved in a campaign to introduce Leap Cards into Cork. We also changed the fare structure so people under the age of 18 could get a child fare, rather than teenagers paying an adult fare."

The East Cork Councillor previously worked as an intern in Leinster House and as a Ministerial Assistant.

However, he feels like his constituency was left behind by successive governments.

"It's important to point out that there is not enough emphasis put on East Cork when you look at the National Development Plan.

"In Midleton, there is a chronic undersupply of school places. This is the same in Carrigtwohill and Cobh.

"Youghal was badly hit, and even during the Celtic Tiger jobs were not delivered there.

"There is also a lack of infrastructure when it comes to our roads. It has been recognised that the East Cork LEA has the worst roads in Cork."

Healthcare is also high up on his manifesto. "Rural GP services are under enormous strain, especially in East Cork. People are moving to the area and are unable to get a GP. It's shocking how bad it is, we don't even have the basic resources."

Cllr O'Connor says that we need politicians to look for funding in these areas. "We need people who will put their lámha suas. Otherwise, nothing will change."

The young Councillor does not come from a political background. He hails from a family farm in Knockmonlea. His mother has a background in science and his siblings are pharmacists.

Despite this, it was a childhood dream to get involved in politics, although he says it is "extraordinarily difficult" for a young person to run for election.

"The established candidates are tough to beat. Some people could not see past my age in the local elections, but I proved them wrong. Others come from family dynasties and they try to shut you out.

"The pressure of politics can get to people, it's a dirty game. You have to be made of steel to survive. We need to encourage young people to run and support them when they do. This should start at the local elections."

Cllr O'Connor notes that in Cork County Council, only four councillors out of 55 are under 30. "Yet two-thirds of the Irish population is under 30. This is fairly shocking.

"Issues like rent, securing your first home… none of these will be solved unless young people can get to the table and affect the decision-making process."

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