Three Irish citizens walking away from a large historic building at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland
Irish citizens walk out of the Regent House towards Parliament Square at Trinity college. Photo by Ryan Yetts / CoJMC.
This is one in a series of Nebraska News Service stories about election and voting issues in the state and the efforts of people and organizations who are working to strengthen democracy. This series is part of a national initiative — USDemocracyDay.org — in which more than 300 news outlets published stories on Democracy Day, Sept. 15, to bring attention to the crisis facing American democracy.
 
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The Nebraska football team traveled 4,047 miles to Dublin, Ireland, for its first game of the season to take on the Northwestern Wildcats. As people recognize Democracy Day worldwide in September, the Nebraska News Service visited with Irish citizens about their democracy and how it compares with democracy in the United States.

The International Day of Democracy on Sept. 15 is celebrated worldwide to recognize the state of democracy. The effort draws attention to threats to democracy as well as successes, according to a Democracy Day article from Montclair State University by their Collective Journalism group.

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Megan Birtwistle, a freshman majoring in journalism at Trinity College. Photo by Ryan Yetts/CoJMC.

The streets of Ireland were filled with people who were knowledgeable about both Irish and United States democracy. Megan Birtwistle, a freshman majoring in journalism at Trinity College, talked about Irish values.

“Although they have different names, the whole Irish state stands on the same two legs, and all the parties have the same values,” she said.

The two legs that Birtwistle referred to are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

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Conall Corrigan, professor of law at Queen’s University Belfast. Photo by Ryan Yetts / CoJMC.

Conall Corrigan discussed recent changes to Irish democracy.

“In relation to democracy in the Republic of Ireland, it’s going through a period of flux at present time because traditionally, two parties represented the majority of people in the Republic of Ireland were Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael,” said Corrigan, who has a master of law degree in human rights from Queen’s University Belfast. “They had a certain degree of antagonism between them. That, to a large degree, is dissipated because there’s currently an amalgam of those two parties going on in the country.

“Currently, they’re losing ground politically because young people feel that they have done very little for the population.”

His solution, even if controversial, is to lower the voting age.

“I feel younger people should be given the maturity to vote at 16, and I think if that were the case, we would see a more vibrant government,” Corrigan said.

As contrasting as Ireland’s Democracy and U.S. Democracy might sound, the two are actually quite similar. The main goal of each is for the people to hold the power and have equal opportunity in decision-making in their respective countries.

Maria Marron, who was born in Ireland and is now a professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, described how she thought Irish democracy was different from that of the U.S.

“I think it’s very vigorous in Ireland, and the Irish tend to be very outspoken, and there will frequently be fairly robust arguments in the Irish parliament,” Marron said.

She went on to explain how protests break out in the street when citizens feel the leaders are not doing what they want them to do or need them to do.

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Maria Marron, professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Photo courtesy of CoJMC website

The United States had a similar event happen on Jan. 6 when the U.S. Capitol building was attacked following Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election. Marron recalled the event and said that democracy is under threat in the U.S.

“There were a lot of problems surrounding all of that, and those problems have not been resolved,” Marron said.

She said she believes U.S. citizens need to realize that institutions serve a role in democracy. She thinks these institutions need to be held accountable, including the president.

“There are measures in place to ensure that there’s good democratic functioning, but some of those measures were discarded in the recent administration,” Marron said.

Corrigan’s beliefs aligned well with Marron’s.

“I think they should really try to regain ground instead of following an individual,” Corrigan said.

He said democracy should be ideologically driven in both the U.S. and in Europe as well.

Birtwistle still has faith in Irish democracy, but her fear continues to grow.

“I know we aren’t as divided as some other countries, but we still have some big problems right now,” Birtwistle said. “The two parties are so opposite of each other that nothing can get done.”

Corrigan said he is generally fearful for democracy.

“It’s under threat. All over the world,” he said.

Read more Nebraska News Services stories about democracy here and national Democracy Day stories here.
I am a senior Sports Media and Communications & Broadcasting double major with a minor in Entrepreneurship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.