Haskin’ Three months on from his failed bid to make it into the Dáil, Mark A. Folens meets DYLAN HASKINS for a discussion on what went wrong, details of his next move and an explanation as to why it won’t include local politics...
year ago, Dylan Haskins looked on in disbelief as 30,000 students descended on the streets of Dublin to protest against a rise in college registration fees. The heedless Government ignored their pleas and increased the cost of education the very next month. “It got to a point where it was like, ‘Well, what else can you do to actually affect a change?’” says Haskins, as we settle down in a trendy Dublin café. In order to “affect a change,” the 24-year-old Trinity College student added ‘politician’ to his ever-expanding résumé, and became one of the youngest people ever to run in an Irish general election. While this may sound like an astonishing campaign to pursue, Haskins has been keeping himself busy with a diverse range of projects from a young age, saying, “I’d be bored otherwise.” As a teenager he would organize all-ages events for his peers in Wicklow and Dublin (“There may have been an economic boom happening but there was no infrastructure in terms of facilities for young people and we were all bored out of our trees”), and has always been motivated by a DIY ethic. “The DIY idea is really empowerment, and that has been an oath I’ve followed,” he says. In the last five years alone, Haskins has transformed his house into a music venue, launched a record label, founded an arts centre and presented his own television programme for RTÉ. He credits his experience in broadcasting for helping him prepare for the enormous challenge of running a political campaign. “Both involve communicating. If you’re being a good politician you’re trying to devise a commonality between different viewpoints. In broadcasting you’re doing something similar in terms of finding common threads in things,” he says. As he speaks, he exudes a passion for Ireland and his sympathy for Irish citizens forced to emigrate
is apparent. “It’s unfortunate that a lot of people who just graduated in things like engineering and architecture have to leave the country. There are really talented people there.” This empathy was a deciding factor in pursuing his candidacy in Dublin South East, and he talks at length on how we could be making opportunities for people. Ideas are his currency and the thing he values over age or status; “It’s not just young people we need in the Dáil, it’s people with a different attitude, a different mind frame to that which we consider to be a normal politician.”
but it came to a point last year where I thought, ‘what is the alternative?’” At times it appeared as though Haskins’ unyielding determination bordered on obsession – the characteristic that set his campaign in motion and helped secure its realisation. But while it is necessary for politicians to exhibit enthusiasm, Haskins seemed blinded by his passion, and lacked the assured logic possessed by older candidates. Haskins’ policies centred on job-creation, renegotiating the IMF deal and “holding politicians to account,” and although presented in an honest, articulate and reasoned manner, his narrow focus felt one-dimensional. Ideas like establishing a creative investment fund sounded well and good, but important issues like public sector reform and the restructuring of the judicial system were absent from his manifesto. On a political front, Haskins’ youthfulness emerged as his campaign’s greatest strength and weakness – a double-edged sword that struggled to galvanize the swing vote without polarizing traditional factions. He spent considerable time persuading student voters to advocate a politician who truly represented them, but would then deflect attention away from his age to prevent alienating himself from the commonman. Appeasing the latter would eventually prove futile, though Haskins remains adamant that his motivation was never constrained by his date-of-birth. “It’s not about age,” he stresses again, “It’s about ideas, attitude and integrity.” The independent candidate generated publicity for his campaign through his astute use of social networking sites and unique online promotional videos. Utilizing these instant mediums was a shrewd tactic, enabling Haskins to announce his presence and then discuss his policies in an immediate, wide-reaching
“We showed people that you can just be a normal person with ideas to go and do this. That’s important.” At its inception, Haskins’ campaign was greeted with a mixture of approval and reluctance. Supporters lauded his radical ideas and infectious enthusiasm while opponents branded the campaign as puerile, and castigated his innocence. The undecided spectators welcomed his passion but dismissed him as a quixotic prospect – full of vitality but devoid of any political practicality. These conflicting attributes would eventually define his electoral expedition. Even Haskins doubted his own capacity to run and admits, “I was always sceptical about being able to affect a change as a politician.” Describing his campaign as a reaction to the lack of innovation and sincerity in the Dáil he says, “Before I found it fine to do everything while ignoring mainstream politics,
and cost-effective manner. In one of his creative political films, Haskins effectively merged aspirational rhetoric with quirky hand-drawn animations and indie-rock music, portraying his campaign as something original, inventive and authentic. “We write the future and we should stop telling ourselves that this is all beyond our control,” he instructed, with the self-assured conviction of a visionary preacher, and though his declaration that “We’re going to build a new political infrastructure, because we can no longer bear the weight of the old one,” sounded like hollow romantic jargon, it exemplified the concept of empowerment that his campaign came to represent. The young politician also benefited from the free promotion generated by his eyebrow-raising appearance, as people began enquiring after the thin, fresh-faced boy with slicked blonde hair. The doe-eyed gaze from his election posters seemed desperately at odds amongst the carefully groomed and world-weary veterans of the campaign trail, making his instantly recognisable. However, this attention was not always welcomed, as critics scoffed at the prospect of this “pre-pubescent boy” becoming a T.D. “I look a lot younger in that picture,” Haskins notes, with the slightest trace of bitterness in his voice. Ultimately, he did not perform as well as expected in the general election, securing just four percent of first preferences in the four-seat constituency of Dublin South East. Despite this, Haskins maintains that his political expedition was an almost faultless success, as it abolished perceptions of elitism that shroud Irish politics. “What we tried to do with the campaign was create a new model for how you might be a politician or how you might run a political campaign by being totally transparent,” he says. “We showed people that you can just be a normal person with ideas to go and do this. That’s important.” When asked to offer his insight on why he received fewer votes than anticipated, Haskins appears visibly disheartened and pauses before assigning the blame to the electoral system. “By its nature you are running in one constituency, whereas the support for the campaign was nationwide. So many people said afterwards, ‘I wish I could have voted for you but you were outside my constituency’. That’s why I think it fell down.” Devoting so much physical and mental energy to the campaign exacted a heavy toll on Haskins, and feeling debilitated he got in his car after the election and drove to Kerry to decompress. He recalls driving out to the Dingle Peninsula, the most westerly point in Ireland and Europe, where he sat alone for hours “looking around and thinking,” to reassess the situation. “I needed that after the election. The exact opposite of what I had been doing,” he says. “Balance is about extremes.” Haskins has been playing over his future in politics in his mind these past few months. “I don’t think I’ll run in local elections again because I think local politics need to be reformed nationally, and I don’t ever want to be a stepping-stone because that’s a disservice to the people who elected you,” he offers. “If that’s what you have to do to get elected I’m not interested in it.” Haskins hints that he will make a return to his work as a broadcaster, but when pressed further he says, “I don’t think you have to tie yourself down to one thing. You certainly don’t need to until you come to some point where you have to make a decision about it, and at the moment, I don’t need to make that decision.” This young man is, as Rachel Lavin of The University Press puts it, “an enigma of sorts.” It is probably easiest to categorize him as a hyperactive overachiever, but even this definition is inadequate in capturing the passion and inexorable drive he possesses. Haskins describes modern Ireland as “undetermined,” a country in a state of ambivalent transition. This is perhaps the best way to describe Haskins himself – a young man with conflicting interests who is facing yet another turning point in his life. Whether you applaud Dylan Haskins’ can-do attitude or scorn his blind naivety, one cannot help but admire his boundless enthusiasm and insatiable appetite for stimulation. In his ambitious bid for the Dáil he was unable to convince the cynics that he was capable of altering the state of the nation, but in attempting to do so, he removed a curtain that obscured the Irish electoral system. While most people, Haskins included, are dismissive of his potential return to politics, it is hard to imagine him taking a passive stance in years to come, the next time 30,000 Irish citizens pour into the streets of Dublin baying for justice, for recognition, and for change. Photos (left): Graham Keogh - Hot Press