Politicians Challenged by Young People from across the Province

The Bytes Project brought 40 of its young people to Stormont to tackle politicians on the life issues that matter most to them.

The event gave young people the opportunity to have their voices heard directly by those responsible for making the decisions that affect them. It was also designed to encourage them to take a more active role in their own communities.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness MP MLA opened the event and broadcaster
Eamonn Mallie hosted a Question and Answer session with eight politicians. Participants included Justice Minister David Ford MLA, Conall McDevitt MLA, Sammy Douglas MLA, Mickey Brady MLA, Paula Bradley MLA, Mark H Durkan MLA, Phil Flanagan MLA and Chris Lyttle MLA. It was a rare opportunity for young people to be able to present raw and personal issues to representatives from most of the political parties..

The young people came to discuss 5 key areas: - education, employment, health, youth justice and homelessness.

In particular, the elected representatives were quizzed on the limited education and training opportunities available to young people in Northern Ireland and about the high youth unemployment rate. They were challenged to ensure that adequate resources are targeted at young people, particularly the most vulnerable.

The event finished with young people facilitating a piece of participative theatre based on personal experience of domestic violence caused by alcohol abuse.

Closing remarks were by Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell MLA and Martina Anderson MLA.

Laura Couser, director for the Bytes Project said, "It was important for us to bring these young people to the Assembly to have their say. Now it is up to politicians to act on what they have heard."

Phil Flanagan MLA, said, "This event was a great experience not just for all the young people attending but also for all the MLAs involved. The confidence and capacity of the young people in bringing pertinent, relevant and at times difficult questions to the MLAs is a huge indication of their ability as leaders in our communities."

Gary Cusack, a member of the Poleglass Bytes Project commented, "It was emotional hearing young people talk about issues that affect them in their communities and realising that these issues are not just happening in our community but affect lots of young people in other areas too. It was great to see MLAs speak frankly and honestly and we appreciated that they listened to what we had to say."

The Bytes Project assists young people by helping them to overcome barriers that prevent access to mainstream education, training or work; and to move towards independent living. The young people involved were all aged between 16 and 25 and not in education, employment or training (NEET). They regularly attend either a Bytes community drop-in a centre or outreach services on a voluntary basis.

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