N.W. Students quiz politicians for cross-community project

Holywell Trust hosted a '˜Let's Talk' event to give local pupils the chance to question their politicians.

Tuesday, 1st March 2016, 8:29 am
Updated Tuesday, 1st March 2016, 2:54 pm
Pictured at the Lets Talk Politics Foyle-East Londonderry Constituency event in the Holywell Trust are elected representatives, Gary Middleton MLA, DUP, the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Thomas Kerrigan, Councillor Michael Cooper, Sinn Fein, Steven Parkhill, UKIP, Gerard Diver MLA, SDLP and Assembly Speaker, MItchell McLaughlin, with pupils from Lumen Christi College. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 26.02.16

It’s the seventh year that the event has taken place and is a cross-community gathering of various schools across the North-West.

On Friday students from Lumen Christi College, St. Mary’s College and Coleraine Grammar gathered to quiz four local representatives.

The DUP’s Gary Middleton MLA; SDLP’s Gerard Diver MLA; Sinn Féin’s Colr Mickey Cooper and UKIP’s Steven Parkhill took part in an open panel hosted by local journalist Paul McFadden.

Introducing the event, Deputy Mayor for Derry and Strabane District Council Thomas Kerrigan said it was a great opportunity for the young pupils.

“It’s always a great honour to be invited along to the ‘Let’s Talk’ event,” he said.

Pupils were also given the chance to participate in a round table discussion and a mock election.

Speaker of the NI Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, said the students are a generation that represents peace.

“This is a project close to my heart.

“You are the first generation that have grown up without warfare on our streets,” he said.

“We are in a changing society and you can contribute to that.”

Each school was given the opportunity to ask questions on a range of topics and were also given keypads to vote on important issues throughout the panel.

68 per cent of the group said they did not feel politicians represented young people while just 9 per cent said they saw themselves living in Northern Ireland in 10 years time.

The students wanted to know why enough wasn’t being done to keep young people in Northern Ireland.

“We have to be conscious of the journey this city has come on,” said Gerard Diver.

“In the 1980’s I looked at the city and I was devastated but now much more is being done to make it an interesting place to be.

“We certainly need to do something to stem the flow of young people who are leaving,” he added.

82 per cent of the students felt that Derry was an area in particular need for attention and UKIP’s Steven Parkhill agreed.

“The Assembly is failing to invest in the North West as a whole,” he maintained.

“We need to invest in infrastructure and bring jobs here.

“There’s no reason why businesses shouldn’t be excited to come to this area,” added Mr. Parkhill.

Quizzed about the abortion issue, the DUP’s Gary Middleton said more medical advice was needed.

“There is a medical committee in place to fully review the issue of abortion from a health perspective,” he said.

“The DUP will support what that committee puts forward.”

Sinn Féin’s Mickey Cooper said that his party felt the issue could have been handled better.

“For us, the recent amendment should have been allowed to go through.

“I think the upcoming election was certainly a factor in the decision,” added Mr Cooper.

77 per cent of the group believed that the voting age should be brought down to 16.

The politicians were asked whether their parties were prepared to adapt to the new attitudes of the younger generation.

Gerard Diver said that all parties represent the views of the people that elect them.

“Of course we acknowledge that young people are becoming more passionate about their views.

“We are all elected based on the votes of our constituencies and we represent what those people what to see,” he said.

“By receiving those votes, we know that we are doing something right.”

Gary Middleton said that there is an opportunity for more young people to get involved.

“There are few members of the assembly under the age of 40, and even fewer under the age of 30.

“I think we all try to represent the views of our communities and together we want to build a prosperous Northern Ireland,” he added.