Tomorrow's Ireland: young people to tell the President how they see it

Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 00:00

Irish lives:‘Presidency seminars’ aim to tease out Ireland’s youth view

As a full-time psychology student, part-time equality officer and a wheelchair user, David Berry (21) has strong views on what it means to be young and Irish. Berry uses his position at University College Cork to campaign for marginalised groups within society, and as someone who has had to overcome certain prejudicial societal views and attitudes, he understands the need for activism and awareness.

Berry was born with a disability and has been a wheelchair user since the age of three. “I feel the stigma of disability is far less in Ireland than in some countries, but I do still feel it,” he says. “For example, people wouldn’t as readily engage with me, and I found that growing up I had to be very outgoing to make new acquaintances. When I go out socialising, I find it very hard to access some of the pubs around Cork. That is not something that would happen in the US.”

Berry says his parents, who encouraged him throughout his life to participate fully, deserve praise for allowing him to fulfil his potential. “I just got on with it and my parents were extremely supportive. I’m lucky I had parents to push me. I had to learn how to do things differently but now I drive my own car, after we found someone who could teach me. I have a level of independence that some of my friends don’t have.”

Seminars

This morning Berry will join President Michael D Higgins and 100 other young people at Áras an Uachtaráin for the first of a planned series of “presidency seminars”.

Earlier this year, the President put a call out for young people to communicate their experience and vision for Ireland, and more than 700 people from a diverse range of backgrounds contributed. Whether any of their ideas will be taken seriously by State agencies remains to be seen, but the exercise will at least allow for a teasing out of youth experience in contemporary Ireland.

“I hope to bring my own personal experience to the table through my work in student politics and as someone growing up with my situation,” Berry says. “I have been asked to attend and illustrate what young people can do. I’d like to maybe speak for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t speak for themselves, and I hope Government and big companies will hear our voices.”

Jona Kalemi (19) is an international relations student at Dublin City University, and lives in Rialto. She moved to Ireland with her family 12 years ago, and hopes to speak today about identity, an issue she feels strongly about.

“I decided to attend this seminar because I wanted to know more about other people’s views on Ireland and I also want to give my views for the future. I am an Irish citizen, and I found when I came here I was really welcomed and people accepted me for a having a different culture.”

Kalemi describes herself as Kosovar-Irish and says she has soaked up many of our cultural practices. “One of the things about Ireland I really like is the great spirit people have and the fact they have a really good time when they are out. They are very laid back. I have adopted some of those characteristics.”

Challenging

Kalemi arrived in Ireland from an economically challenging background, just as the Celtic Tiger was beginning to take hold. She feels she is able to speak as someone who has experienced both the best and worst aspects of the Irish psyche in relation to materialism.

In fact, she prefers the country as it is today. “To be honest I am glad the recession happened. People are now valuing the small things in life rather than materialistic things. Times are hard now, but I see a lot of positives in Ireland today and I hope to share them with other young people.”

Following today’s seminar, a report titled Being Young and Irish 2012 will be published on president.ieand sent to Government authorities.