South Down MLA Colin McGrath joined representatives of other Stormont parties to hear the opinions, questions and challenges thrown out by young people from a range of backgrounds at a meeting in Belfast earlier this month.
Around 80 people aged 16-30 from youth groups, business organisations and schools gathered at the Rainbow Factory Studio on 15 November for an event entitled “ListenUP!” It was hosted by the Integrated AlumNI, the association of past pupils of integrated schools.
The politicians from the five largest NI parties spent the first hour listening to round-table discussions on issues such as education, mental health, political structures and community relations, before giving their feedback on what they had heard. The event also included electronic polling on key topics related to the discussions.
Colin McGrath, SDLP Spokesman on education and young people, commented that he had heard some tough messages for MLAs:
“I thank you for the engagement and for the challenges you put to us today. But key for me is that that half the young people in the room said that they don’t see themselves as being here in ten years’ time… that has to be a wake-up call.”
The politicians attending signed a pledge that they would engage further with young people’s groups and continue the conversation. A full report on the event and the messages from the participants will be published next year.
The Integrated AlumNI was founded in 2013 by former pupils of integrated schools. The group works to develop a social network, to actively support and encourage current pupils through mentoring and to promote and advocate for integrated education.