It is often said that politics is a brutal game and with a number of recent announcements of high-profile politicians opting to bow out of politics, citing the significant personal toll that a career in politics can have, one may be forgiven for thinking that the game had got too brutal. Despite this, a career in politics has not yet lost all of its lure, with the upcoming Local and European Elections seeing a number of young, first-time candidates hoping to secure victories in their respective elections. 

One such candidate is UCD’s very own Maria Wall, who, at just 20 years of age, is one of the youngest candidates running in the Local Elections and the youngest candidate for Fianna Fáil. Wall, who hails from Mooncoin in South Kilkenny, is a final-year Dairy Business student at UCD. She is running as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the Pilltown Local Electoral Area.

Wall comes from a political family, having cousins who have served as Fianna Fáil councillors in Kildare. When Wall came to UCD she joined the Kevin Barry Cumann, the UCD branch of Ógra Fianna Fáil, where she currently serves as vice-chairperson. Wall credits Kevin Barry Cumann for helping grow her interest in politics. Wall also currently serves as the vice president of Ógra Fianna Fáil, which gives her a seat on Fianna Fáil’s Ard Comhairle or National Executive. 

On the Campaign Trail

An election campaign, particularly for first-time candidates, is a mammoth, bordering on an all-consuming, undertaking. As a final-year student, Wall admits that the scale of the commitment did give cause for concern. “I was obviously really concerned about college, but I’m quite happy with my GPA at the moment”. While Wall acknowledges the challenge of juggling campaign and college commitments was daunting, it was one she felt up for. “I’m like a diamond, I always work best under pressure. I like having pressure on me. It’s when I’m most motivated”. Wall added that she was strategic in her approach, saying “My game plan was that when I came into the second semester I went hell for leather on my assignments. At the moment, all I have to do is exams”.

Wall seemed rather unphased about the negative elements of public life and being exposed to the criticisms and insults that go with it. “My outlook is that I come from a family of six brothers and a sister, so I have had the worst insults thrown at me over the kitchen table. I don’t think it can get any worse on Twitter”.

On her experience on the campaign trail so far, Wall states that the reaction she has been getting is great so far. “Most people are surprised to see how tall I am after getting”. Coming from a big, well-known family Wall comes across a lot of familiar faces when campaigning and that people are not really surprised to see her running, given her long-time involvement in politics. 

When asked about why she chose to get involved in Fianna Fáil, as opposed to another political party, Wall stated that she “didn’t join Fianna Fáil because of any single politician is the bee’s knees. I joined Fianna Fáil because I believed in the ethos of Fianna Fáil. I believe in an Ireland where everyone’s treated equally, but hard work is rewarded.”

I questioned Wall about young people who perhaps feel let down by or disenfranchised by the government parties and would choose not to vote for them as a result. “Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion when it comes to things, but I would really say to people don’t just be reading the headlines on a newspaper”. Wall cited the Help to Buy Scheme introduced by Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, and the fact that Fianna Fáil have delivered 100,000 houses over the course of their stint in government as evidence that “there is progress happening” on issues affecting young people.

“If you are in UCD you are going to be entering into the workplace in the next four years, you are going to want to support a party who aligns with your values and aligns with where you see yourself in 10 years. We are all here talking about the future, but policy is our future”.

On the issue of women in politics, Wall admits that she “wouldn’t be very pro quota” when it comes to addressing the need to get more women involved. “I feel like quotas can just put women down sometimes. I wouldn’t want to feel like I got selected because I was a woman and I know that some of my peers would feel like that and it is really disappointing”. 

Wall states that one of the nicest things from her experience so far is that she has already found herself as a role model to young women interested in politics. Wall spoke about a seventeen-year-old who, as someone involved in politics, reached out to say that she was inspired to see a young woman running for election. On this Wall remarked that for girls “if you can’t see it you can’t be it, so it’s nice to be that person that people can see”. 

On issues that she intends to address if elected, Wall cited legislation around the succession of farms and getting young people involved in agriculture and farming from a younger age. Wall mentioned environmental issues as a “massive thing that is going to affect rural communities”, citing the need for better education to help farmers keep up to date and in compliance with various environmental schemes, as well as the paperwork and red tape that goes with them. Public transport, and in particular issues with school buses, is another issue that Wall hopes to address if elected. 

Wall also added that she was sceptical of calls to cut the national herd, a contentious issue in her locality. “Rural Ireland is very dependent on agriculture and on farms, so I don’t know how it is going to play out. I can see why people are upset by it”. 

With Ireland set, in the coming weeks, to get its youngest-ever Taoiseach in Simon Harris, the topic of long-term political ambitions naturally came up with Wall refusing to give much away. “I’d say I’ll get a bit of experience under my belt and see from there”. When asked if this meant she had no ambitions to be Taoiseach, Wall responded “I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to be Taoiseach, although I wouldn’t mind the Finance Ministry”.

Mark O’Rourke – Features Editor