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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

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Opinions

Lessons of the Past

Although the issue of coronavirus remains rightfully the all encompassing news story with a unshakable position as the most prominent scoop of the news bulletin, however as this ruinous disease remains at the forefront of the minds of the general population it is easy to forget that the country must also be run, the pulse of government must be firmly placed on the heart of the nation. Throughout all political forums, whether they be Dáil Eireann, Stormont, Facebook or Twitter along with coronavirus, the eternal struggle of the Irish unity question has been raised foremost by many of the young people active on these sites and indeed many influential titans of the political world.

 It has become apparent that the Unionist majority which the apartheid regime of Northern Ireland Stormont has lost the control of the Irish citizens living north of the border with the republic, the border being a symptom of what many would refer to as the illegal partitioning of a sovereign state, as of the government of Ireland Act 1920 passed directly from the houses of parliament in Westminster as a method of appeasement to the unionist population concerned at the rise in support for an Ireland free of the century spanning domineering oppressive force of the British Empire. Stormont itself acted as much as a symbol as it was as a parliament with the imposing statue of unionist demagogue and former party leader Sir Edward Carson towering above those who enter the parliament of Northern Ireland which is supposed to be representative of all of her people, Nationalist, Unionist, Catholic, Protestant irrespective of creed or politics. This was made apparent by the open hostility of many of the early Prime Minister of the North such as James Craig and Basil Brooke who both openly called for the discrimination of employers against Catholic workers. Open discrimination in the housing market and a glaringly obvious systematic system of voter suppression through the deliberate gerrymandering of electoral districts robbed the nationalists of Northern Ireland of a significant legitimate parliamentary presence. 

In response to this many civil rights protests sprung up across the North demanding equal rights for the Catholic citizens of this state. Instead of being met with compassion and debate they were met with hails of bullets and violent abuse of peaceful protestors. Should this not have sparked outrage from the international community at large you may ask how was the condemnation of the world not fall onto the shoulders of Britain? The simple answer was in the beginning there was a general sense of apathy and following this desperation bore violence and unmitigated brutality. Although many simply wanted to defend their loved ones and communities the Troubles turned into a depraved, barbaric bloodbath on both sides as paramilitaries both loyalist and republican alike sunk to irredeemable lows massacring civilians both in political style executions, random acts of violence or indiscriminate mass killings costing the lives of so many innocents. An appalling manifestation of nationalism and unionism an affront to the ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland. The campaigns of the Provisional IRA no doubt did most harm to the cause of Irish unity forever tarnishing and staining the green, white and orange with a corrupting crimson red. It is however not in the ranks of those most violent men in the divisive, nationalistic and hateful rhetoric of extreme fundamental wings of these parties in which the solution is found. 

The state of Northern Ireland is rotten to her core the Good Friday Agreement has put given her an aesthetic change, yet it is but that, a change on the surface level, grievous sectarianism has reached boiling point under the surface as the implementation of an Irish sea border has stoked unionist fears. Yet if the hard-learned lessons of recent history have thought us anything it is that this fear can not be met with a similarly all-encompassing and devouring fear which like a poison seeps into our logic and humanity causing the most malicious atrocities. Only through the carefully constructed links between Ireland and the North can facilitate a peaceful transition from partitioned island to empowered republic. PEACE, that is the key word, the new Irish Republic must be founded on decency, morals, understanding, community, respect and equality for all regardless of background this may only be achieved through calm discourse and debate. The new Irish Republic must not be founded on the blood persecution and sorrow which fuelled and sustained the old Imperial Regime which came before it. Such bitterness will envelop and infect our new state irreparably rot the promising and unifying foundations on which it should be built. This state shall not be founded on bloodshed but on carefully built diplomatic ties between both governments and communities. There is no doubt this strategy is a time consuming one yet we’ve waited 800 years for a free Ireland rid of her colonial oppressors, so if it means that this new Ireland shall be formed of a peaceful enduring bond it is surely worth the wait. It is true this approach is best embodied by some parties more than others on either side of the border yet peace is a goal which requires universal and total support, this issue is not for but one political party, this is the way forward, the way to a united Ireland, the way and will of the Irish people. 
By Darragh Sinnott

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Opinions

Let’s End Period Poverty

With Labour’s Rebecca Moynihan and Fianna Fáil’s Lorraine Clifford-Lee both submitting legislation on tackling period poverty in Ireland to the Seanad, youth volunteers from Abolish Direct Provision have gathered together to set up a campaign, in the hopes that free period products would be provided to women in Direct Provision.  

The bills, if passed, would provide free period products in schools, education institutions and public service buildings. The bill also places an onus on the Minister for Health to engage in an information campaign to ensure people know where to obtain the products. In November 2020, Scotland became the first in the world to make period products free, it is time that other countries follow. 

It is a struggle for women in direct provision. While some centres do provide period products for free, centres are not obliged to do so and therefore not all centres provide these necessary items for free. Asylum seekers only get €38 a week. Many centres have in-house shops attached to them. In the newly opened direct provision centre in Donegal, it was reported that asylum seekers must buy from the in-house shop and they are not allowed to visit other shops in the local area, such as Lidl. Period products can be quite expensive, as well as this they must buy their own toilet paper, nappies (that range from €10-15) and any other womanly items. The €38 is not enough. Because of this low income, many asylum seekers resort to prostitution. Some asylum seekers suffer from mental health issues and as a result, there have been many miscarriages in direct provision. Abolish Direct Provision have recently set up a pregnancy kit project, that provides pregnancy tests, dressing gowns, slippers and much more for pregnant asylum seekers. Once the baby is born, the State only gives the mothers a once off payment of €50. This is why the pregnancy kit project has been a success. The non-profit organisation welcomes any donations from the public to help these mothers. 

Knowing all this, youth activists from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Social Democrats, People Before Profit, Green Party and the Labour Party decided to put political differences aside to work with each other on these issues. They decided to set up a pledge, similar to Fingal Against Racism’s anti-racism pledge set up during the general election. All elected reps, North and South, who sign, must promise to tackle period poverty in direct provision. In just 3 days, the campaign got a lot of attention and over 200 signatures so far, from all major parties like Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Social Democrats, Aontú, Labour, Green Party, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, SDLP and a few Independents. The campaign has got the attention of Labour leader, Alan Kelly, Social Democrats leader, Roisín Shortall, Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, People Before Profit leader, Richard Boyd Barrett, Fianna Fáil MEP, Billy Kelleher and much more. 

Fianna Fáil youth activists, Méabh Cusack and Sorcha Ní Chonghaile managed to attract 76 Fianna Fáil elected reps to sign the pledge and will continue to contact their party for more. They both like the idea of working together to end the direct provision system. Labour’s Catherine Arnold and Green Party’s Vanessa Mulhall, whose parties are very interested in tackling period poverty, have been amazed with all the support they are getting from their party. People Before Profit’s Georgia Walsh, who wants all parties to unite to effectively abolish direct provision, is looking forward to elevating the voices of women asylum seekers during the planned International Women’s day event, that accompanies the campaign, on the 5th of March at 3pm on the topic of period poverty. Sinn Féin’s Brooke Ní Riagáin, who is only 16 but very passionate about this issue, thanks to all Sinn Féin reps who have signed the pledge and looks forward to speaking on this important issue on the 5th. Fine Gael’s Lucy Roche, has noticed that quite a lot of male politicians are getting back to her in full support for the campaign, which is great to see. Social Democrats’s Christine O’Mahony, who set up this campaign with Abolish Direct Provision and the other youth activists, wants to thank all elected reps who have signed the pledge, and is overwhelmed with all the support and hopes that Minister O’Gorman will tackle the issue of free period products in direct provision. This campaign has proven that we are stronger together and we can put political differences aside to help others. 

All money raised before the event on the 5th, will go towards buying period products and essential items for women in direct provision. You can register for the event on the abolish direct provision website, www.directprovision.org

Christine O’Mahony 

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Opinions

United Education

As a young student of politics my world almost revolves around the constitutional question. Whether it’s writing about difference between the DUP and Sinn Féin or similarities between the latter and the SDLP. So as a result I often find myself questioning what a United Ireland would look like, what it would mean economically and how it would be governed. These are the topics of debate we often hear discussed by our politicians, and while of course they are the vital conversations, I find one topic to be often ignored. Education. 

The Northern education system is far from perfect, with religion segregating one way and academic selection keeping us separate another way. However we do not have mainstream private education in the way the republic does. While there may be some schools considered private schools in the North, they are not as mainstream. Mostly being Grammar Schools with quite expensive “voluntary contributions.” These schools are not considered private schools in the way that Eton and Harrow are but are more so considered “fancy grammars.” 

Whereas South of the border, private school education is much more normalised, with some of the highest fees coming in at over €8,000 in 2020, and as they become ever more popular and in higher demand, those fees will not be going anywhere. 

So, what happens in a United Ireland in regards to education? 

A two tier system purely based off of socio economic status is not acceptable. A system that gives kids a helping hand simply because Mummy and Daddy have got more money that another set of parents is not acceptable. A system that keeps the poor down and the rich up is not acceptable. A system which allows you to go to university simply because your secondary school was fancier than the one down the road is not acceptable.

Education in the 6 counties has been a source of empowerment for the nationalist community, nationalists used education to balance power in Ireland, to fight discrimination. Education was the only way a catholic could get a job. One side of the community had “jobs for the boys” so nationalists were forced to work harder in school to make sure they could succeed and prosper. It is the nationalist community who want a United Ireland however that United Ireland cannot destroy that source of empowerment for working class kids. 

A two tier system would only help keep the working classes down. It warps the system against working class kids and that will never be acceptable. 

Religion still segregates our education in Northern Ireland, separate schools keep divisions alive. Those divisions are still alive and well in the North. Implementing a system which would add another element of segregation would not help unify the next generation but would only help further divide society. Not just Catholic Protestant but then also Rich and Poor. Sectarianism is alive and well in education, classism does not need to be thrown into the mix.

In a United Ireland, the education system must be equal, free and fair. A system that helps to heal divisions and create a generation that wants to build a better society for everyone. Rich and Poor, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. The education system should empower young people, regardless of background. That system must not be allowed to divide or segregate but must unify and integrate. That system must be representative of Ireland and her people. 

If a United Ireland is to happen the issues of education must be addressed properly in a way that satisfies the needs of students, not of businesses or churches, not of pressure groups and politicians but of the next generation of pupils. 

By Dermot Hamill

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Opinions

Academic Selection: To end or not to end?

That is the question.

Peter Weir has faced criticism in recent months due to a lack of action regarding the Transfer Test. Public opinion has caused Post-Primary entrance exams to be cancelled in Grammar Schools across the six counties, with some Exam companies attempting to wait out in the hopes of being able to hold their exams. At the time of writing AQE have agreed to cancel their examinations alongside other exam companies.

This year the exams could not be held due to a variety of reasons, one of those was due to most students being left unprepared having missed almost half a year of their education in 2020. Some students were not left in the same position, some children had access to much better opportunities in regards to remote learning, whether it was online classes or better online resources. Like every normal year, some students had tutors for months before the exam was set to take place. This is where the class issue arises. Some argue that the transfer test going ahead would leave those without these resources disadvantaged in comparison with their more affluent counterparts. Essentially the rich kids would get better grades because they had private tutoring.

However this divide between those with tutors and those without is not unique to the 2020/21 test, every year some students will have one to one tutoring for months in advance whereas some students simply won’t.

However are grammar schools any better than non-selective schools?

 Yes and no. It is true that the top 59 schools in regards to league tables are grammar schools, however that does not exactly suggest that there is a better standard of teaching. If a school is selective and only takes students from those that achieve the top transfer test grades then naturally they will take the top grades in GCSEs. This allows a student to be surrounded by those of equal ability, which is achievable in a non-grammar through the process of “streaming” classes i.e separating students based on their ability.

However grammar schools are considered ruthless by many pupils and parents. With a heavy focus on academic prestige and sporting success many grammar schools have become notorious for neglecting their students in regards to pastoral care and mental health support. Schools will often turn a blind eye to the mental well-being of a student provided their grades are high. With some of the worst mental health figures in the U.K. with 12.6% of young people in Northern Ireland experiencing anxiety or depression which and 25% more likely to experience these issues than the rest of the U.K. Schools should not be negligent in regards to the mental health of their students no matter how good their grades are.

So why are schools adamant on maintaining selection?

Reputation? Money?

According to some teachers, they enjoy the “prestige” and “cushiness” of a grammar school job, if all the students are considered academically gifted then they have to put in a lot less effort in order to maintain good results, every school wants to be top of the league tables. Or is it the “voluntary contribution” also known as school fees, a yearly payment given to the school from parents to pay for extracurricular activities and facilities. However while it is technically voluntary, the contribution is considered voluntary in the same way the collection plate at mass is voluntary.

To end or not to end?

According to Childline Transfer Test related stress levels are increasing, with experts saying many children are facing so much stress that they face crippling anxiety. Anxiety? In 10 year olds?! Whether you’re pro-academic selection or not, that should be shocking and should evoke horror, however for me it doesn’t. I can easily remember the day I took my entrance exam, 10 years old walking into a big, scary secondary school, a far cry from my class of seven pupils. I remember how scared I was about failing despite not really having much pressure from parents. I remember the kids who ended up being sick or crying because they didn’t know the answers. Looking back it opens my eyes to how difficult it must have been for the kids who didn’t get the results they wanted. So the figures of 125 calls to Childline about transfer stress in 2016 disgusts me but it doesn’t shock me. If academic selection is to be continued then work must be done to remove the fear from it, to remove the stigma of failure.  It isn’t a formal qualification it isn’t really worth anything after 1st year so if the test is to continue after 2021 then we need to make it less daunting for children. Because they are children, it’s not an A level, they’re kids.

Or we can scrap it altogether, the stress goes away and it would allow us to further level the playing field for our students, an A in the transfer is simply a way to inflate the ego of a 10 year old for a while before they go to secondary school and see that it doesn’t really mean that much. Yes it’s a great achievement to score so highly at such a young age but it’s not healthy to create division so early and to create 2 tiers of students, those who passed and those who didn’t.

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Interviews

In Conversation with Gregory Campbell

Our first interview with an MP here at the Youth Voice and certainly an interesting one. Gregory Campbell of the DUP, MP for East Londonderry since 2001. We discussed votes at 16, mandatory coalition, a border poll and whether the DUP needs to modernise.

The DUP haven’t been particularly vocal about votes at 16, in Ireland both North and South it isn’t an issue that seems to be particularly important to any of the major parties however as a young person it’s an issue that is very important to me. According to Mr Campbell the DUP will certainly engage in the discussion however would rather focus on increasing turnout amongst the 18-21 age group who are notorious for a low voter turnout. The DUP fear that allowing votes at 16 may make turnout percentages even worse however the DUP will engage in the debate and will consider both arguments.

This lead to a discussion about political education in schools, Mr Campbell agreed that we need to start considering reforming political education in schools. He went on to say that there historically appeared to be an unwillingness amongst teachers to discuss politics within the classroom however times have changed and it’s time to start getting people educated and involved. At the minute politics is not part of the syllabus other than for A level and GCSE politics however these subjects are not offered in many schools.

Our next topic was about the modernisation of the DUP, I put forward the idea that in recent elections the DUP saw significant losses due to their conservative position on social issues. Mr Campbell disagreed, he believed that those losses were possibly due to the lack of a Stormont Assembly when the election took place as both Sinn Féin and the DUP saw losses. However Gregory understood the importance of the DUP being aware of the social changes around issues like Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion Rights. He understands that if a party does not change with the times and buries its head in the sand eventually it will get left behind or drowned in the tide.

Another topic of discussion was mandatory coalition, with parties like Alliance supporting a transition to voluntary coalition in Stormont. We discussed how mandatory coalition inhibits change and allows the big 5 to remain relatively complacent in regards to their position in the Executive due to the 5 party coalition. A move to a voluntary system would force the larger parties to engage properly with their electorate and to gain public support.

We also discussed the idea of a border poll and the factors that would decide the result. We agreed that a poll on the constitutional position of NI is almost inevitable, and that it would be decided by the economic situation for example the Brexit situation alongside social issues. Mr Campbell raised the idea about accommodation of British and Irish identity, in his opinion the U.K. is a lot more accommodating of Irish identity in comparison with Irish accommodation of British identity. We also discussed the importance of the campaigning in the event of a border poll, there must be a degree of respect and political toxicity should be avoided in order to protect the people of NI having had to deal with the controversy of Brexit NI is in a period of uncertainty and in the event of a border poll it must be done to protect people’s peace of mind.

This was one of the more interesting interviews that I’ve done so far. Going into it I undoubtedly had built an opinion on Mr Campbell simply from watching debates and his controversial “curry my yoghurt” moment in the assembly. However I was pleasantly surprised, Mr Campbell was far from the aggressive unionist figure as portrayed in the media but was rather a politician who believes not only in looking after his constituency but what he feels is best for NI. He was our first unionist politician to take part in an interview and I hope to have many more in order to encourage dialogue and diversity of opinion.

By Dermot Hamill

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Opinions

Those who are born here belong here. They are of us. They are Ireland.

‘’The Republic… cherishes all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.’’ – The Proclamation of Independence, 1916

#BornHereBelongHere is a Labour Youth Initiative looking to reintroduce Birthright Citizenship to Ireland

In 2004, the people of Ireland made a decision; based on a campaign filled with xenophobic lies and misinformation, the electorate of Ireland voted to remove birthright citizenship with the 27th ammendment. Hoaxes of birth tourism pushed by right wing groups fired up the populace and that disinformation campaign has robbed thousands of Irish people their citizenship. Left wing groups and Human rights campaigners opposed the 27th amendment from the beginning, but sadly their efforts failed to stop the passing of the amendment.  In the most extreme cases, this has meant children who have lived their entire life in Ireland, and consider nowhere but Ireland home, have been faced with deportation to foreign lands.

In the years that followed there’s been a massive shift in public perception. Since then polls have consistently shown a change in the air and it is clear that a majority of Irish people support the reintroduction of birthright citizenship. Spurred on by stories like that of Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue, and the inhumane policy was shown in all its horror, polls now show that over 70% of people support its reintroduction. The question you may be asking yourself is how this changes, ‘Sure, we voted on a referendum, do we need another referendum to reverse this?’. The short answer is no, a provision in the 27th amendment made it so that our government could legislate to reintroduce birthright citizenship. Currently there is a bill being debated in Seanad Eireann on the issue; The Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Naturalisation of Minors Born in Ireland) Bill Presented by Labour has backing from both sides of the aisle, support from Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats, People Before Profit and a number of government members. However it is still entirely possible the government will reject this bill, to fight for a more equal Ireland, an antiracist Ireland I urge you to push for your representatives in the Dail and Seanad to support this bill.

We recently passed the one year memorial of the tragic death of Cormac Ó Braonáin. He was so incredibly passionate about this campaign and up until his death he had worked tirelessly to help prepare it. Help honor the legacy of Cormac by pushing for this bill to be passed and sign our petition to add your name to the thousands of others who have voiced their support: https://www.labour.ie/belonghere/

James O’Harte