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Education Service hosts YMCA "Youth in Government" debate

On Wednesday, the Assembly Education Service hosted the annual Belfast YMCA Youth in Government Debate. A group of young people from 6 Belfast schools participated in a 2-hour, Assembly-style debate in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings. The schools represented were Our Lady and St Patrick’s College Knock; Wellington College, Victoria College; Rathmore Grammar; Methodist College; St Malachy’s College; and St Mary’s CBS.

The motions which the young people chose to debate were on the controversial issues of abortion, capital punishment, a united Ireland and socialism. Speeches proposing and opposing the motions were of a very high standard, with strong arguments and evidence presented on both sides.

The young people also met with MLAs, Robbie Butler, Justin McNulty and Caoimhe Archibald, who had to deal with some tough questions about the current political situation, including MLA pay. Claire Hanna also popped in to meet the group during their debate. The day finished with a tour and visit to the public gallery of the Senate Chamber where the Public Inquiry into the RHI Scheme is being held.

The group also visited Westminster for an education programme, tour and visit to the Commons Gallery. It was a Wednesday and many famous faces of politics and journalism were about for Prime Minister’s Question Time. Northern Ireland MPs from the DUP spent time with the group discussing a wide range of issues. 

A visit to the Houses of the Oireachtas is also part of this Youth in Government programme. The group received a tour, sat in the public gallery of the Dáil to observe TDs in action and met with Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile.

The Youth in Government Programme is a great opportunity for young people to see politics ‘close up’. The YMCA’s Peter McNiece says, “Being able to meet with elected representatives, sit in the debating chambers and feel part of the hustle and bustle of democracy is something you cannot learn – you must experience it.”

Applications are now being taken for next year’s programme, which will run from November 2018 to March 2019. So, if you are a young person between 16 and 18 who has an interest in politics (or know one), go to www.belfastymca.org/youth/programmes/yig for more information and to apply online.