Students witness democracy in action with politicians acting like children

 

Trips to see local and national democracy in action proved to be an eye-opener for a group of Waterford students.

The teenagers from the Mercy Secondary School first went to the Dail last month in the hope of seeing at first hand how issues of national importance are debated.

Instead they witnessed a row involving the Labour leader, Mr Ruairi Quinn, which resulted in proceedings being suspended by the Ceann Comhairle, Mr Seamus Pattison.

Unfazed by that experience, some of the girls decided to try their luck at the February meeting of Waterford City Council. There they observed some of the most acrimonious exchanges seen at the council in years, culminating in a walk-out by members of the Workers' Party.

The Fianna Fail TD Mr Brendan Kenneally, who hosted the girls' visit to the Dail, was perhaps more disappointed than his guests about the whole experience.

"We're all the time being told that young people aren't interested in politics, and when an effort is made to get them interested, something like this happens and turns them off completely," he said. "It's bound to be a turn-off when students see politicians acting like children."

Emma Harte, however, a 14-year-old who helped organise the Dail outing and also attended the council meeting as part of her CSPS (civil, social and political studies) course, was far from disillusioned.

What surprised her most, in fact, was the media's concentration after the council meeting on the row at the expense of the many other issues discussed. Several councillors, she said, were apologetic about what went on. "They kept coming up to us and saying `It's not normally like this' ". Neither experience, she said, had turned her off politics.

The three Workers' Party councillors left the meeting after the deputy mayor, Mr Maurice Cummins, refused to suspend standing orders to allow debate on a motion concerning the introduction of refuse charges. The motion was subsequently reached on the agenda but fell as the Workers' Party members were not present to move it.