Teenagers grill election candidates on essential issues

Children’s rights groups hold hustings to let young people air their views on politics

 

Young people are concerned about homelessness, jobs, discrimination, education and the environment and are far from uninterested in politics, based on the participation of many of them in a pre-election event in Dublin on Thursday.

Election candidates were put through their paces with some thoughtful questions from teenagers at a special election hustings organised by three children’s rights organisations.

Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the ISPCC invited the young audience to ask TDs and councillors about their plans if they get into government for the next five years.

Labour junior minister Kevin Humphreys, Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett, Fine Gael councillor Kate O’Connell, Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy, Sinn Féin councillor Kathleen Funchion and Social Democrats candidate Gary Gannon were among those who took questions.

Tackling homelessness

Sarah, aged 11, from St Enda’s Primary School, Dublin 8, asked the candidates how they and the government planned to tackle the serious issue of homelessness.

All of them acknowledged that efforts must be made to support those facing or at risk of homelessness – especially the more than 1,400 children currently living in temporary accommodation.

Daniella (11), also from St Enda’s asked if the candidates would consider building more hospitals and hiring more staff to ensure patients received better care.

Christine (12), wanted the politicians to say how they would tackle inequality. Another questioner asked whether the candidates would consider introducing electric taxis to Ireland to reduce air pollution and offset global warming.

“That sounds like a fantastic idea,” Mr Boyd Barrett responded.

He said people in Ireland needed to move to more public transport generally, with more buses and trains being used.

Jumping red lights

The same teenager asked whether CCTV cameras could be installed at all junctions, particularly near schools, as so many motorists were jumping red lights and putting children in danger.

Maria (15), from St Leo’s College, Carlow, asked the candidates if they were aware that about one in five children in primary school required additional supports.

She asked whether they would reverse cuts to special needs provision, increase the number of special needs assistants and review the Deis programme for disadvantaged schools immediately.

Sammy (15), asked how the candidates would support children and young people in becoming interested in politics.

Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward told the assembly that children comprised a quarter of the population - and yet they had no right to vote.

‘Engaged’ contribution

Commending the youngsters for their “thoughtful and engaged” contribution, she said there was “no reason” a 16-year-old, or maybe even a younger person, could not vote in a general election.

ISPCC chief executive Grainia Long praised the teenagers for the “insight, knowledge and passion” of their questions.

Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said the candidates had “quite rightly” recognised just how important these issues were and had treated their audience – and each other – with due respect.

“Based on today’s display, general election 2016 candidates should certainly be watching their backs,” he said.

The children in attendance were 5th and 6th class pupils from St Enda’s Primary School in Dublin 8 and transition year students from St Leo’s College in Carlow.