Local teen represents Newry at Youth Parliament debate in Westminster
Gavin Fleming, representing Newry and Armagh, was among a group of young people from Northern Ireland who took part in a debate in the House of Commons on a range of key youth issues.
Gavin was one of 13 Northern Ireland Members of the UK Youth Parliament (MYPs) who joined 300 colleagues from England, Scotland and Wales recently to decide which area should be the focus of a national campaign in the year ahead.
The young fledgling politicians debated five key areas and at the end decided to target Votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. One of their tactics will be to lobby the House of Lords to get a majority in the upper chamber to support their campaign. Each MYP will ‘adopt a Lord’ to lobby them for support.
Claire King of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum co-ordinates the UK Youth Parliament programme in Northern Ireland on behalf of the British Youth Council. She says the young people will now plan their activities in Northern Ireland to step up the campaign to lower the voting age.
“The Votes at 16 issue has come a long way and it was felt that this is something that is achievable in the short term. Next year 16-year-olds will vote in the Scottish Referendum and we hope this will create a precedent for future elections,” she added.
Among the 13 Northern Ireland MYPs who took part was Ruairi Kennedy, who spoke in the debate on the need for schools to provide better work experience and careers advice.
Ruairi (18) believes that more focused work experience and careers advice would help address the increasing problem of youth unemployment.
“Lots of young people end up photocopying or making tea and coffee on their work placements. We need to get better systems in place that will encourage them to go on to do relevant Further and Higher Education courses,” he said.
Claire King said the UK Youth Parliament provided a vital voice for young people, “Apart from MPs, these young people are the only representatives allowed to sit in the House of Commons and debate. This event raises the profile of youth politics and shows they have a real stake in society.
“It is vital for young people to have representation locally so they can bring issues of concern to a national forum. It is very healthy that young people aged 11-18 are voting on issues important to them and participating in democracy.
The recent debate was chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons Rt. Hon John Bercow MP and broadcast live on BBC Parliament. The MYPs debated the top five issues chosen by more than 478,000 young people in the UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark ballot earlier this year.
The five issues up for debate were: A curriculum to prepare us for life, which was chosen as the UK Youth Parliament’s national campaign in 2013, Zero tolerance towards bullying in schools, Better work experience and careers advice, Combating youth unemployment and Votes for 16 and 17 year olds in all public elections.
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