If anyone thinks politics is only for the old and boring then they’d be wrong.
Young people from all over Derry took part in a ‘Political Speed Dating’ event in Thornhill College last week and some of the questions they put to politicians would have given Jeremy Paxman and Adam Boulton a run for their money.
The event was organised by the Political Society in Thornhill College and was called ‘So What Do You Think?’.
The event was attended by Mark H. Durkan MLA (SDLP), David McClarty MLA (Independent), Gregory Campbell MP, MLA (DUP), Alisha McCallion, Derry City Councillor (Sinn Fein) and Eamonn McCann, political and human rights activist and journalist.
The event was held in the school’s assembly hall. Inside the hall were several tables with a mix of different students at each one. Each politician spent a fixed amount of time at each table before moving onto the next where they were asked different questions.
Jarlath Parlour is Head of Politics at Thornhill College and he said the reason they decided to host such an event was because they wanted to raise awareness of politics amongst young people.
“Schools from all over the city attended the event. We had pupils from St. Cecilia’s College, Oakgrove Integrated College and St. Joseph’s Boys’ School. The interaction between the students and the politicians was excellent.”
The event was open to any student in lower or upper sixth and whilst some who took part are politics students, many others were not.
“I think it’s important that young people get the chance to make their voice heard,” said 17 year-old politics student Edel Holmes.
“It was interesting to listen to the answers the politicians gave to our questions. I was particularly impressed with David McClarty - he seemed to really have his fingers on the pulse.
“It sometimes annoys me that older people think that young people have no interest in politics. I am passionate about politics and I would like to see more women in politics - that’s hopefully an issue we’ll host another event around in the future.
“I have applied to study politics at several universities next year. My dream come true would be to get to Queen’s University Belfast so I’ll have to work extremely hard,” added Edel.
Edel and the others addressed a wide range of topics but the event also allowed them to focus on issues pertaining to their age group.
“One of the issues that affects us is the proposed change to how A-levels are assessed,” said 17 year-old Lauren O’Doherty.
“At the minute if we sit an exam in January and don’t get the desired mark, we can re-sit in the summer but the proposed changes will mean that A-levels will be assessed using one big exam at the end of the two years. We all spoke at length about this issue to Mark H. Durkan and he said that he would take what we said on board,” she said.
Politicians also used the event to sound out the thoughts of young people. They talked at great length about the recently released City of Culture 2013 programme and the young people were more than keen to give their opinion.
“I don’t think there is enough for young people in the City of Culture programme,” said 16 year-old Brenda Conlon.
“We talked to Mark H. Durkan and Alisha McCallion about this. We told them that we thought that whilst the programme seemed to be catering to the interests of older people, we felt, that it didn’t go far enough for the young people of Derry.
“I would have liked to have seen more concerts and more bands for young people. Alisha McCallion said that there will be more announcements in the coming months but she couldn’t go into detail,” said Brenda.
The girls said that they were surprised at how Gregory Campbell MP, MLA came across and said that whilst they disagreed on many issues, he was respectful and courteous.
“At one of the tables, Gregory [Campbell] was asked for his thoughts on abortion and gay marriage - he must have thought ‘what have I let myself in for?’,” said 17 year-old Amy McShane.
“I thought Gregroy was really nice. I don’t agree with him on many levels but there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone - just as long as you’re able to put your point across in a fair and respectful manner - that’s the most important thing,” she said.
The Thornhill College pupils spoke with great passion about issues such as the decision of Belfast Council to reduce the number of days the Union flag can fly from City Hall, the City of Culture programme and the idea that politics in the North is still seen as green versus orange.
Jarlath Parlour said that the enthusiasm for politics in Thornhill College is made possible through such events as last week’s and he thanked principal, Marguerite Hamilton, for her support and help in staging the event.
“We have taken the Political Society to places like Washington, Berlin, London and Stormont. Miss Hamilton has been very supportive of the group and we are thankful for that.
“As a teacher, I think it’s fantastic to see so many young people showing an active interest in politics - there are adults who are nowhere near as passionate and as enthusiastic as these girls are.
“It sometimes difficult to get young women to show an interest in politics the same way young men do but that’s not the case at this school - all you have to do is listen to the girls - they are very enthusiastic.
“Last week’s event was a cross-community one. It allowed young people from different backgrounds to come together and share their views on political issues.
“Hopefully the event helped them to get their points across and the politicians would do well to listen to them because they’ll be eligible to vote in the next few years,” he smiled.