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Why I Want a Vote

Time for Votes at 16

I’ve been following politics since age 10, a primary school trip to Stormont was all I needed to develop an interest, having followed the 2014 European Parliament elections I had found something that truly interested my little 10 year old brain. From there I started following elections at every opportunity, no matter whether it was Westminster or the White House. I have grown up with a love for politics, it affects my daily life, I study AS Government & Politics and hope to study a politics degree. I’ve appeared on both the Television and Radio to talk about politics specifically education, I’ve interviewed numerous politicians and even hosted a debate with other young people. 

So why don’t I get a vote?

Some say young people aren’t educated enough to vote, I disagree, more people than ever are choosing to study politics on both sides of the border, many campaigns are being spearheaded by today’s youth. Young activists helped push for Marriage Equality and Abortion in Ireland, in 2019 we saw thousands of young students protesting climate inaction all around the world. In 2020 we saw thousands of activists young and old protest police brutality and systematic racism. Information is more accessible than ever, I can find thousands of articles online written by young people. We are not the same generation as our parents, the internet has helped educate millions of young people about the effects that politics has on our daily lives. We are educated.

Others say young people wouldn’t get out and vote. Tell that to Scotland, in their independence referendum almost 80% of 16-17 year olds turned out to vote. 

Some say we don’t have the life experience to deserve a vote, a generation that has lived through a global pandemic, an economic crisis in 2008. A generation that has suffered under some of the most inept Education Ministers in the history of Ireland in the forms of Fianna Fáil’s Norma Foley and the DUP’s Peter Weir. Neither of them properly considering the effects their decisions have on young people, but both of them putting their desires ahead of public health advice. 

In the north we would have votes at 16 had it not been for the Tory party. In 2012 the Stormont Assembly passed a motion in favour of Votes at 16. However as elections are not a devolved matter we have to rely on the Westminster government and the Tory party are not interested as they oppose lowering the voting age. South of the border students may get lucky as Sinn Féin are reintroducing a bill to allow votes at 16 in Local and European elections however Dáil elections and referenda require constitutional change.

So, why should you support lowering the voting age?

At 16 we can pay tax, marry and join the army. At 17 we can drive and register to vote. We lose out on the opportunity to take part in democracy, we lose our voice. Some adults will say that young people should have a voice but not a vote, however a voice is nothing without power, a voice is of no use if you can only shout but do nothing. Young people want change without a vote we cannot bring change. Power needs to be held to account, the adults seem to be failing at that, so we deserve the opportunity. Adults make decisions that affect our lives and we have no say in the matter. We have no voice without a vote. Left or right, orange or green, you should support votes at 16. Taxation without representation brought down the British establishment in America and sparked a revolution. 

What’s the worst that can happen? Young people actually make some change? Many young people won’t turn out to vote in the same way many 18-24 year olds don’t turn out, those of us who want a vote, those of us who would vote deserve the opportunity.

The government should reflect the people it represents, and yet the Assembly is largely made up of old, white men. Only one MLA is under 30 however 20 of them are over 60. The Assembly fails to represent us, the future, the generation of tomorrow. 

Well, the generation of tomorrow wants a say Today. The newly announced youth Assembly is great and I applaud the efforts of all those involved, however getting to play politics isn’t enough for us. Let us decide who makes the decisions, give us an equal seat at the table.

Give us a voice. Give us a vote. 

It is past time for votes at 16.

Lower the voting age now.

By Dermot Hamill

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Opinions

Our Mental Health System

As a young person who has been through CAMHS and now in adult mental health services I know what it’s like to suffer from mental health issues.

The mental health crisis in Northern Ireland is a very worrying issue. Research shows that Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental illness in Europe and accounts for 16 deaths per 100 000 individuals per year. The prevalence of mental health issues in N.I is 25% higher than England- despite this, only 6% of the health budget here is spent on treating mental illness.

Among young people in Northern Ireland there is a very worrying trend. 12.6% of children and young people in Northern Ireland experience common mood disorders such as anxiety and depression – around 25% higher than the other parts of the UK! 1 in 20 young people have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Almost 1 in 10 young people in N.I have admitted to self harming and roughly 1 in 8 reported have thought about or attempted suicide. 44% of young people aged 16-25 in Northern Ireland report experiencing some form of mental health problem- almost half of young people. This is a shocking statistic! 

So what support is out there?

From a young age I attended Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) which was a great sense of support. However waiting lists for CAMHS can sometimes take months or years- this is not acceptable, often resulting in children and teenagers having to present to A&E at times of crisis. Even after attending A&E they are often put on yet another waiting list. 

I am now under adult mental health services and whilst they have been helpful, waiting lists are still far too long through no fault of the excellent staff who try their best to support you. I waited 9 months for a psychology referral despite it being deemed urgent- this is unacceptable and very unfair to those in desperate need of the likes of CBT.

However what can you do whilst waiting for a referral to mental health services?

When I was younger I often attended and still attend my local YMCA who provide endless support and brilliant distractions from my mental health issues. Finding a good youth club is a fantastic way to find support and make new friends- the youth leaders can also signpost you to other organisations which they believe could help. I also attend Extern and Alternatives Restorative Justice who support young people up to the age of 25. Extern youth workers provide one to one support when you are struggling and have very short waiting lists so you can access support almost immediately! 

You can phone Samaritans on 0330 094 5717 for immediate support in a crisis.

There is a great text support line for those like me who don’t feel as comfortable talking on the phone. Text SHOUT’ to 85258 and a crisis volunteer should reply within 5 minutes to support you. For those under 25 The Mix also provides this service. From their website:

Do you need help now? Our crisis messenger text service provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, and are experiencing any painful emotion or are in crisis, you can text THEMIX to 85258.We need to work together to improve mental health services in Northern Ireland- we are worth FAR more than 6% of funding! We deserve better!
By Naomi H

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Opinions

Mandatory Coalition: Relic of the past?

The Alliance Party have come out in support for an end to the mandatory coalition in the Stormont Executive, and the idea of a voluntary coalition has been thrown into the political conversation. But, is the time right and is Northern Ireland ready?

When the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 the people of Northern Ireland rejoiced, finally an assembly that was fair and representative of the people would govern the 6 counties. A 4 (now five) party coalition would form an Executive to divide up the different ministerial departments and run the country. That executive has seen many changes over the years, the devolution of Justice saw Alliance join the Executive and in 2015 we saw legislation that would allow an official opposition. In 1998 there was still a clear Unionist majority however in 2017 that all changed, for the first time the 2 main nationalist parties, Sinn Féin and the SDLP, earned more seats than the two main Unionist parties, the DUP and UUP. 

Despite this the DUP and UUP have both asserted their support for a voluntary coalition whereas Sinn Féin and the SDLP are in opposition. Alliance’s announcement of support for voluntary coalition is not actually that shocking, Alliance have always been a party of progress and pragmatism and in many peoples’ eyes the mandatory coalition in Stormont is failing to represent the people of Northern Ireland, so realistically some form of systematic change may be necessary.

Many people cling to mandatory coalition and the Good Friday Agreement as a safety net and something that protects peace and stability. Those people are not wrong, such radical change would be a risk, tensions are high as a result of Brexit and maybe normality is needed. Mandatory Coalition protects both Nationalists and Unionists and gives both sides an equal slice of the political pie, a voluntary system could risk this.

However is Stormont working? 

Some would argue that it isn’t, that the Executive has failed to legislate for Northern Ireland and has failed to represent its interests, with Gay Marriage and Abortion the current system gave the DUP a veto using the petition of concern, a mechanism meant to represent minority interests. However the mandatory coalition has forced the DUP and Sinn Féin to work together, a left wing Republican Party who seek to unite Ireland working alongside a right wing Unionist party who seek to strengthen and maintain Northern Ireland’s position within the U.K. For a long time this system worked, under “the Chuckle Brothers” the Executive functioned well occasionally clashing but ultimately delivering. Under Robinson and McGuinness the Executive saw some periods of division however completed its mandate. Under Foster and O’Neill the Executive was collapsed for nearly 3 years! Many people question whether this system is serving the people of Northern Ireland and whether it allows a government to operate in the best interests of the nation.

Is voluntary coalition fair?

A system akin to the Dáil would perhaps be the most representative in a voluntary system. With the same makeup as the current Assembly however with an executive made up voluntarily rather than from the Largest Parties based on how each party designates. This system would also give parties like Alliance, the Greens and PBP an equal vote rather than being excluded from Cross-Community voting. This system however makes many Nationalists fear the idea of a Unionist grand coalition, a coalition requiring 50%+1 would allow a government to be formed with 46 seats. So a coalition of The DUP, UUP and Alliance would be able to form a government in the current Assembly. Others have suggested a 2 thirds majority system however this would require either a Coalition of The DUP, UUP, Alliance, The SDLP and The Greens leaving a large section of the community unrepresented, the DUP could be swapped out for Sinn Féin and PBP. Either way under this system one of the largest parties would be left out or Stormont would simply be the usual 5 party coalition.

The next election could change everything, with Alliance polling as high as 18% the Executive could look very different after the 2022 election. Who knows what the next election will bring, an Alliance surge could certainly help the case for an end to mandatory coalition, however nothing is ever certain in politics especially in Northern Ireland.

Whether Northern Ireland is ready for Voluntary Coalition is down to us, the people of Northern Ireland and it’s up to us to decide what we want.

By Dermot Hamill

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Opinions

Integrated Education: Easier said than done?

When we think of segregation, we think of racially segregated America, bathrooms for whites and bathrooms for non-whites. A part of history that most people are ashamed of, a part of history that we swear never to return to. Segregation in Northern Ireland however means something different. It means a Catholic shop and a Protestant shop. It means green Doctor surgeries and orange Doctor surgeries. It means divided education.

This division in education is symptomatic of a wider national problem. Northern Ireland is thankfully not the same place it was 50 years ago, we don’t have violence anymore. We don’t have a sectarian conflict ripping us apart. These facts are something to be celebrated, however our divisions are not gone. We may attempt to encourage integration, be it through community groups or tearing down peace walls but those divisions are still alive and well. Those divisions are continually being forced upon our society, from a young age. Only 7% of school aged children attend integrated schools, meaning 93% of students attend segregated education. 

So, thousands of children every year are kept segregated from those on the other side of the community. We try and unify Northern Ireland and those efforts should be commended but if a child experiences division and grows up only knowing that division then the side of the community that they are kept from will always seem, alien or foreign. A community divided, is a community weakened. It is during those formative years that community integration and unity should be taught, should be celebrated and should be normalised. 

Whether you are Nationalist or Unionist, you should strive to see Northern Ireland work, to see children grow up in a better society than the one you grew up in. It should be our goal to make our society better for the next generation, to make that society one of inclusion, one of diversity but also one that sees the term “Cross-Community” as something normal rather than something to be sceptical about.

Thousands of people across the country watched the second season of Derry Girls, the hit Channel 4 show about 1990s NI, in one episode the girls attended a cross community residential filled with many hilarious scenes showing the curiosity about the opposite community. Now while Northern Ireland is a far cry from the society it was in the 1990s there is still a significant divide not just in society but amongst young people. Young people are kept apart for most of their educational careers and taught in separate schools based on religion.

This needs to change. 

We live in a different era, it is past time to break the shackles of division and segregation and to integrate. We are not that different. Our cultures may be different but that must not be a barrier to progress. 

Progress can only be achieved through consensus, it’s time to start supporting more integrated schools, it’s time to start discussing what divides us. Let’s talk about what subjects will be taught. Let’s talk about the history syllabus. Let’s talk about the Irish language. Let’s talk about Religion. Sensitive topics should be talked about, not kept quiet simply because some people may be disinterested. Let’s build an education system that brings us together. Northern Ireland has to work, as a society we’ve seen a government that has seen scandal after scandal and has collapsed like a house of cards more than once. If we want to make the country work it must be through discussion, let’s make it less difficult to talk to the other side of the community.

Some question whether integrated schools would be able to function. Whether people would send their kids, opting instead for the segregated school. Make integrated schools better, fund them more than their segregated counterparts, financial incentives, more resources. Give the child more say, we are not born with sectarianism. We are taught sectarianism. So let’s stop teaching it. Make integrated education more readily available, make it accessible, not just for the middle class inner city kids but rural areas too. 

Education and integration will build a society that we can be proud of, a society for all, regardless of colour or creed. A society of equals.

By Dermot Hamill