Dylan Haskins Interview

A post election interview with Dylan Haskins

By Andrew Donovan

The  Election posters all over the city contained just one sentence below the image of the fresh-faced 23 year old student Dylan Haskins…“it starts here”. Some wag had written ‘puberty’ after ‘it starts here’, a homage to both the candidates youthful appearance and the grand  old Irish tradition of  begrudgery. Now weeks on from the General Election, having polled a respectable 1,200 votes, the former candidate is as busy as ever. Just before meeting with this reporter he had been visited by a woman who had asked him to organise an event in response to the earthquake in Japan. The woman herself was from Fukushima home to the  three damaged  nuclear plants. Her family are continuously being evacuated. She came to Dylan because he has a track record of getting projects off the ground most notably his election campaign and Exchange Dublin, an initiative he started while still in Secondary school. Dressed in a check shirt and a dark green Lyle and Scott cardigan he looks calm, laidback. The reality is that he’s doing his best to adjust from the 19 hour days of  the campaign. “You can’t live like that. It’s necessary during a short period of time like the election but if anything, it’s taught me how much you can fit into a day.” He has been fulfilling the roles of both Dylan public and Dylan private quite well all things considering. On one day last week he wrote an article for The Irish Times followed by an essay on obscure landscape painters from the 17th century. Not surprisingly, he says that he finds it difficult changing gears.

In a time in Ireland where economists and politicians are as famous as actors, Haskins now has to get used to being recognized on the streets..

“I was walking up Grafton Street and these two girls came up to me and said are you Dylan Haskins? I said yeah I am and one of them said the campaign was really inspiring and that her Dad was a politician. Apparently she went home and started having it out with him. So I asked her who her Dad was and she said Brian Lenihan (former Finance Minister). I thought the poor guy, he’s getting it in the media everyday, and now when he goes home he’s getting it as well.”

Dublin is a small place, and  Facebook Dublin is even smaller.  When Haskins first set up  Exchange two years ago,. friends of mine knew friends of his and naturally I befriended him on Facebook, without ever having spoken to, or seen him. His posts conveyed the impression of a man who was constantly active and seemed to have a great deal of fun in his job. One particular highlight was him proposing to Marina from ‘Marina and the Diamonds’ with a tinfoil wedding ring during his time as presenter with RTE 2. Still, the first sighting of his Election posters on the city’s Camden Street  came as a bit of a shock. But looking back at his Facebook persona, the more it seemed  to fit. “Anybody who knew me was not in any way surprised knowing the kind of trajectory and ideas that have motivated everything that I have done.” he agrees

His campaign embraced  social media and his website received 16,000 hits on the first day. The inevitable backlash came as Luddites everywhere rejoiced that Dylan Haskins couldn’t transfer  Facebook friends into votes. That critique still rankles.  TV current affairs host Vincent Browne asked Dylan why would he would  want to throw away his youth and his life on an election.  Spend some time in his company however and you begin to realize that a General Election campaign couldn’t have suited him more: Communicating ideas is what  Haskins  is all about, and while at times he does not seem uncomfortable being in the limelight, he doesn’t always like being at the helm.

“It really bugged me. For starters I don’t have more Facebook friends than votes, it’s more fans. It’s easier for someone to click ‘like’ than cast a vote and secondly the fans on Facebook might not even be in Dublin, let alone that constituency. So of course you are going to have more friends on Facebook than votes! It bugged me when you see things misrepresented like that.”

He feels the best way around that is to“do it for a year, get it off the ground, then move away. It’s a testament to the project [Exchange] that it’s still going.” Exchange is just one of a growing number of enterprises and organisations Dylan started. Basta Youth Collective was the first, set up in 2004 when Dylan was 16. There mission statement reads

“We are an autonomous youth lead collective working to improve the quality of life and facilities for young people and indeed the whole community in the areas we live and recreate. Our goal is to inspire, encourage and support individuals and groups wishing to improve our society. We do this through information exchange, discussion and debate, practical example and application, art, films and music to name but a few.”

Even at 16 he had lofty ambitions that have continued to the present day, all of which make his decision to stand for Election as an Independent candidate more understandeable. Basta Youth Collective is no more, but the sentiments that inspired it’s creation still ring true: “We didn’t find meaning going to the cinema in Dundrum Shopping Centre, we didn’t find meaning going to underage discos, we just felt ugh this sucks.”

He talks about empowerment a lot. It’s a common theme that he says runs throughout his projects. He is not doing these things purely for himself; it is always for a community, whether imagined or real.  The idea of the social space; how it can be used, how it should be used, forms a large part of his thinking.  He is a modern day Prometheus, except instead of stealing fire from the Gods, he is getting planning permissions and grant monies from Dublin City Council. Whether he has received a Prometheus style punishment as yet only he can answer but his time at Basta Youth Collective sounds arduous enough.  He learnt that collectives don’t function unless they’re hierarchical.  His decision to remove himself from Exchange after a year follows this pattern but still seems peculiar.  The concept of Exchange – a free all ages space to share ideas – is the same as Basta but five years older. The ideals of Basta are finally being realised but strangely Dylan is no longer part of it.

His ambition at 16 was to create a space for discourse, debate and discussion. A place for music, a place for youth. A venue contrasting dramatically from the usual hang-outs of middle class Dublin, the rugby discos  of Donnybrook and the multiplex cinemas of Dundrum. Somewhere more meaningful for young people.

Asked whether he would  consider returning to Exchange, he replies, “I don’t think so because by the time I had set it up, I haven’t needed what it provides. I have a platform and I probably had one before it started. It’s somewhere to present work. A lot of people can’t even get a space to do that. I know different places and I’ve managed to put on things regardless but I just thought that it was necessary for it to be there.”

His determination is frightening and his ideals are simple:

“You can’t say we should have this or we should have that, you just have to do it, you just have to create it and if it’s better then people will go to it. People go to that which gives them more meaning.”

We finish up and he has to dash for another meeting.  The Election has made him the most talked about 23 year old in the country. He’s achieved so much as a hitherto virtual  unknown. One can only imagine what he will achieve with his new found fame.   It starts here

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