I’m not sure what my first memories of politics were exactly, but I [have] very vague remembrances of what might have been the 1992 election for the sole reason that my father bears a passing resemblance to Willie O’Dea, so to my very young eyes it was like I was seeing posters of my Dad everywhere, and it had to be explained to me.
I remember the 1996 election in America and everyone in my house wanting Clinton to win. I remember watching bits of his second inauguration and being bored.
I remember 1997 and being a bit bemused that the man in charge of the country was changing. I also remember people knocking at the door around the time, total strangers, that my parents chatted to about voting. I maintained a loose interest in politics after that, but it mostly amounted to what my parents told me. The 97 Presidential election helped a bit in that I think, I remember talking to them about who they were voting for and why.
In terms of the north, I remember being on holiday in the Algarve at the time of the Omagh bombing and suddenly it being brought home to me that the IRA were not nice people; the GFA had barely impacted on me, and apart from a vague memory of going through roadchecks after the McCabe murder, the IRA was something I only knew about from primary school education about 1916 and the WOI. I think the devastated reaction of various Irish on holiday there – we spent a lot of it in an Irish bar – probably started a revulsion in me towards physical force campaigns regards Irish republicanism.
In terms of political awakening proper, I suppose in many ways it was 9/11 and the aftermath. At that time I was a teenager, and my crowd of friends got very anti-Bush to the extent that in 2004 it was all we talked about sometimes. We were full on Michael Moore-heads, American Idiot-quoting all the time, and some of my first online routines were discussion boards talking about the Bush/Kerry election, which was my first big disillusionment with politics: I couldn’t understand how Kerry lost. I did begin to take a much bigger interest in Irish politics at the time, especially during referenda, with my parents, especially my mother, pushing me to read newspapers all the time: the Sunday Tribune was a big one. In terms of a political identity, I didn’t really have a firm one, but I generally thought FF were doing fine, and that FG had a tendency for own goals (Michael Noonan lived down the road, and everyone I know thought he was hopeless as FG leader long before the election), that SF talked too much, that Labour were over-rated. I suppose I was centre/centre-right weirdly enough (I mean, despite hating Bush Jr rabidly), and stayed that way for a while.
By the time I hit 6th year I was less interested in Bush Term 2 and more and more into Irish politics solely: I remember the CSPE exam and thinking how braindead it was that identifying the then leader of the Labour Party was a question, until afterwards a bunch of my friends admitted they hadn’t a clue. 2007 and after brought some realities home to me about how things actually worked in the country.
On the foot of some of the other responses, I wanted to add a bit about college, when something more fully formed in terms of a political consciousness was formed. Student government is a lousy way to judge Ireland’s politics, but I do admit that Labour Youth and their often slavish devotion to the “Gilmore for Taoiseach” era put me right off them as a left-wing option, leaving only Sinn Fein, whom I disliked, and the harder-left, that I felt were no-hoper talking shops of no consequence. I had time for, but little engagement with, the big two in contrast, and I voted FG in 2011. It was an odd time really: I classified myself as very pro-union on the basis of my family, pro-immigration on the basis of experience but also defended the Kenny/Gilmore government on frequent occasions during the early years of their term.
Post-college stints of unemployment were very formative for me in terms of my current political leanings, and I came to appreciate what the harder-left offers, and centre-left options like the Soc Dems when they came around.