The Mayor, John Boyle hosted a successful ‘Let’s Talk’ debate in the Guildhall’s Council Chamber on recently in which no less than seven local post-primary schools took part in a lively debate on issues of the day.
The schools – St. Joseph’s, Oakgrove, St. Patrick’s and St. Brigid’s, Claudy, Foyle College, St. Mary’s, St. Cecilia’s and St Columb’s - had representatives taking part that grilled local councillors on the live issues of the day.
The panel itself was comprised of Brian Tierney (SDLP), Kevin Campbell (SF), John Boyle (Mayor) and Darren O’Reilly (Independent).
Ironically, all councillors were former pupils of St. Joseph’s past pupils. Unfortunately, the DUP and UUP were unable to attend the event.
Chairing the Q&A session was St. Joseph’s Head of Department’s Government and Politics teacher Peter Smith. Discussions began with Brexit. The Foyle constituency has the fourth highest remain vote in the Brexit Referendum and Rossa Smallman (St. Joseph’s) asked what the Council were doing to mitigate against the worst effects of Brexit.
Responding, Darren O’Reilly said the best solution was for a border poll, while Sinn Fein’s Kevin Campbell believed that the back-stop was the bare minimum requirement for nationalists in the North.
SDLP’s Brian Tierney commented that no-one really knows how severe the impact would be but that all the evidence from business and farming was that it would be disastrous for the UK in general and catastrophic for the North of Ireland in particular.There were a number of follow up points about the prospect of a return to violence and unanimity in the Chamber that this would not be welcome but there was also a recognition that a small group of people can cause a lot of disruption as evidenced by events in Derry in recent months.
The chair added: “The panel could hardly be expected to solve Brexit in 20 minutes as Mrs. May had 20 months to negotiate without success.”
Another issue highlighted by the young people was the poor provision of mental health services in Derry and what specifically the Council was doing to address this urgent matter. The chair, Mr. Smith, highlighted to those in attendance that more lives had been lost to suicide since 1998 than werre lost during the Troubles. Mayor Boyle said he believed that the issue of mental health required the same focus which was devoted to the peace process in the 1990s. Some of the Foyle College students believed that social media had a major role to play and there were suggestions that these companies should be taxed to pay for enhanced mental health services.
Councillor Campbell identified mental health provision as a major priority for Sinn Fein but blamed the austerity measures imposed on the block grant for the shortfall. Responding, Colr. O’Reilly bemoaned the fact that only 5% of the health budget was devoted to mental health.
This was simply not good enough in his opinion.
Several schools, including Oakgrove, St. Cecilia’s and St. Patrick’s Claudy, were very exercised about this topic and had plenty to say on the matter.