As we enter into an uncertain era with regards to how we do politics in this part of the world, young people continue to cry out to have their voices heard.
We are still the only jurisdiction in these islands to have never had a Youth Assembly; and despite the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s recent call on the government to act with urgency in setting one up, we remain sceptical about this dream becoming a reality.
Having personally lobbied on this issue for over 10 years now, with many of the young people who have worked with me on this issue during this time becoming involved in politics themselves, we still wait and ask the question why the heck not?
We have been told that there is a will, yet we continue to face barriers. We have been told that money is a factor; that the model would not engage the hard to reach; that it could have no power…. but to be honest – no one has dared to listen to our proposals in this kind of detail. Does the will really exist?
The Youth Forum has a blueprint and successfully piloted a Youth Congress (2013 – 2015) – an elected model which did reach the margins; didn’t cost millions and engaged young people in participative democracy and social justice.
The Youth Congress was said to have meaning, connectedness and put young people in control – young people felt that they were in the driving seat. Having taken part in the first ‘Annual Sitting’ in November 2015, where over 100 young people from all walks of life participated in workshops followed by a debate in the Stormont chamber, young people have had a taste of how things could be…. and loved it!!!!
Our call, whilst sounding slightly ironic at this time of a (Stormont) Crisis, is perfectly serious….. as we enter into this uncertain era in local politics; why not let young people exercise their rights and have a say on the issues that they care most about; in what may be a big empty chamber, in that big white building on the hill?
It is imperative that a Youth Assembly is established as soon as possible. Perhaps through doing so, our youth can show how politics can work for all of the people here?