Better funding and representation for youth demanded

 

IRELAND has the youngest population in Europe but the interests of young people are not adequately represented in political and social life, according to a report by the National Youth Council of Ireland.

The report - "Putting Youth on the Agenda" - was introduced in Dublin yesterday by the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton. It points out that 42 per cent of the State's population is under 25 compared with 25 per cent in the European Union as a whole, and that the largest single cohort in the Irish population is the 10-14 year group.

Yet most young people believe their opinions are not valued by older generations, the report says, and this is reflected in the lowness of the Government budget for youth work - only £14 million last year.

Because poverty is more common among larger families, the study continues, children are one and a half times more likely to be poor than adults. Long term youth unemployment is also consistently higher than the overall rate.

The NYCI blames these inequalities on a lack of political representation of young people. It points out that while Mr Bruton was 22 when elected to the Dail in 1969, only two members of the current Oireachtas are under 30.

Chief among the recommendations in the report is a doubling of annual funding to youth organisations, which the NYCI says have 500,000 members throughout the State.

The report also asks for a "clear remit" for the Minister of State for Education to be a Minister for Youth Affairs, with full responsibility for the youth service.

It recommends that the age at which young people can vote (18) should be the age at which they can stand for election, not 21 as at present.

On crime, the report recommends raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14, in line with common European practice. And it suggests extending the use of non custodial methods of dealing with young offenders.

Highlighting the high unemployment rate and the high level of job turnover among the educationally disadvantaged, the NYCI calls on the Government to identify children at risk of leaving school without qualifications and target them for special treatment.

The report was prepared as a "henchmark" for the NYCI's contributions to negotiations on a new national programme.

Presenting the study yesterday, the NYCI president, Ms Jillian Hassett, said the "Generation X" label wrongly portrayed young people as self centred and unconcerned about the world around them.

"Our research points to the opposite. Young people do care and want to make a difference but feel that their opinions are not given due consideration by older people."