Democracy needs young people to get involved, says Speaker

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 11 March 2015

Reference: SO 08/14/15

Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and President of the Assembly Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, tonight hosted the annual event to mark Commonwealth Day in Parliament Buildings.

The theme of Commonwealth Day this year is "Young Commonwealth" and the event, held in conjunction with "Rock the Vote", focused on encouraging young people to participate and get involved in the political and democratic process. In his remarks to the youth audience, Speaker McLaughlin spoke of the potential that those brought up during the peace process can bring to local politics. Extracts from Speaker McLaughlin's speech are below:

"All of us in this Assembly realise that there is a challenge about the perception that many people will say they aren't interested in politics. That reaction is often based on thinking about politics as purely what goes on in the Chamber here or about our political parties or about our community divisions. Yet when you talk to people about the decisions surrounding the issues and public services we all care about and which impact on our daily lives, then it is clear that people care passionately about politics.

"I know that also applies to young voters and the temptation to steer them towards youth issues. There are of course issues that you will all feel more passionately about like tuition fees, youth services or local leisure facilities. However, all of the same issues that affect my generation like the economy and the health service also affect you. Therefore, we shouldn't pigeon hole young people into only being interested in certain issues. On the contrary, the greater the number of perspectives involved, the better a decision is likely to be. Young people have a different and important voice to be heard.

"In a local context, there is an even greater value to encouraging younger people into our political system. We are now at a point where those born only shortly before or after 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement are reaching voting age. They have grown up in a different political environment post-conflict and with different influences. I don't pretend that means an end to our community divisions but it opens up an opportunity. You don't carry the same baggage and scars with you that the rest of us do. That is bound to put you in a better position to develop the relationships across the community and to reach the agreements required to make progress in our political system.

"As the older generation leave the scene in the elections to come, and those of you born in the nineties come to the fore, there is tremendous potential to transform our politics. However, that puts a responsibility on us to encourage you to get involved in politics and in decisions at a local level and to find ways of engaging with you. There is more work to do on that but there is also a responsibility on you to take the opportunities to make your voice heard loud and clear to use your influence."

As well as speakers from the Scottish Youth Parliament, Public Achievement, and Where is My Public Servant? (WIMPS), there were performances from local musicians.


Mitchel MCLaughlin, MLA, Speaker NI Assembly with James Hurley, Louise Cameron and Robert Murtagh at the Assembly's Commonwealth day event with Rock the Vote. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrisons

Notes to Editors:

1. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's (CPA) NI Assembly Branch has participated in Commonwealth Day for the last seven years, holding themed events in Parliament Buildings.

2. This year's Commonwealth Day theme is 'A Young Commonwealth.' This event is designed to encourage youth participation in democracy and is organised in collaboration with the Rock the Vote organisation.

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