Students discuss solutions to climate change at cross-border schools event

Initiative aims to help students to share ideas on how to tackle common problems

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the event aims to allow students to engage on a range of universal issues affecting them. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the event aims to allow students to engage on a range of universal issues affecting them. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The first in a series of cross-border school events aimed at giving students a chance to share ideas on how to tackle issues such as climate change got underway at the Department of Education on Wednesday.

Sixty secondary level students from schools in Portadown, Belfast, Galway and Wicklow attended the first event which involved round-table discussions on the environment, proposals to tackle climate issues, as well as searching questions for the politicians.

The schools which took part in the event were St Dominic’s Grammar School for Girls, Belfast; Portadown College, Co Armagh; St Mary’s College, Galway and Gaelcholáiste na Mara, Arklow, Co Wicklow.

The students also had some questions for the Minister for Education Joe McHugh, who attended the event.

Questions included why the department had supplied plastic cutlery to the event; why the voices of young people were not being listened to by those in authority; and why were politicians not taking more radical action on climate change.

Anna Nic Gafraidh of St Dominic’s Belfast asked: “It seems like when we go to things with government and ministers and politicians, they don’t listen or take our ideas on board. So, where’s the accessibility and opportunity for us to have a platform to speak on?”

Andrew Martin, a student at Portadown College, expressed frustration at how schools and publicly funded bodies are still purchasing single-use plastics.

Other students called for cheaper and more accessible public transport; incentives to buy bicycles for students; stronger measures to incentivise companies to operate more sustainably; and a resumption of the Stormont assembly to ensure politicians respond to calls for action.

Mr McHugh pledged to share the students’ proposals with the Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton.

He said he hoped the cross-border engagement of young people will become a permanent fixture on the calendar in the Department of Education.

“Greta Thunberg’s name and actions are in the hearts and minds of young people everywhere now,” Mr McHugh said.

“They are looking for action on issues affecting their lives now and the next generation...We must realise that while we respect the Border, issues like climate change, sustainability, gender rights, bullying, online safety – they are challenges that affect us all.”

In a statement, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the initiative reflected discussions he had when he visited the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast last year and the need to “seek out opportunities for more shared understanding of our connections”.

The event was organised in conjunction with the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, based in Co Wicklow, and Politics in Action, based in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday’s event was the first in a planned series of similar events. The second leg of the programme is being planned for Stormont later in the year, where local politicians are due to take part.