Northern Ireland’s young people show their voices are not in lockdown

Members of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum’s (NIYF) Political Champions group met digitally on Wednesday, to answer burning questions young people have about the Covid-19 pandemic and how it impacts them. This online meeting follows on from a survey carried out earlier this month by the NIYF, that saw 780 people aged 11-25 give their views and concerns during the Covid-19 outbreak.

NIYF’s survey, titled ‘Our Voices Aren’t in Lockdown’, revealed that 73% of young people feel that they need more access to appropriate information relating to Covid-19 and 74% believe there is not enough testing currently going on in Northern Ireland.

The survey included more than 600 questions, which have been narrowed down to 20 key points for politicians to answer.

The NIYF is a youth led group with a focus on lobbying, advocating, promoting and fighting for the rights of young people in society. Since the group was established in 1979, they have focused on representing the views of young people to government and other decision makers.

The political champions at Wednesday’s meeting were Rachel Woods (Green Party MLA), Catherine Kelly (Sinn Fein MLA), Robbie Butler (UUP MLA), Sorcha Eastwood (Alliance Party MLA), Gerry Carroll (People Before Profit MLA), and Chris Lyttle (Alliance Party MLA).

The DUP Education Minister, Peter Weir, was unable to attend due to urgent Assembly business.

The two-hour long meeting saw young people question local politicians on a variety of issues impacting young people at this difficult time.

Topics covered included education, Covid-19 testing and the lack of resources available to healthcare workers, issues around fake news, mental health concerns, the economy, environmental issues, transport, and housing and homelessness.

Speaking before the virtual meeting, NIYF’s Participation Development Worker, Natalie Corbett said, “young people’s voices are as important as ever right now, they have lots of questions about the current situation and we want to ensure their voices are heard and that they know we are here to support them.”

For each question asked, at least two politicians gave a response, being allotted a maximum of one minute each to answer.

On the subject of fake news, it was pointed out that young people need a reliable way to stay informed. There was a suggestion of holding a daily Coronavirus youth conference, as is the case in Norway.

Green Party MLA Rachel Woods picked this point up, agreeing that youth specific communication is needed. On Thursday, she wrote to every MLA in the Assembly outlining the need for this initiative.

On the topic of education, a question was asked about whether students would be able to appeal predicted grades.

Chris Lyttle MLA said that there will eventually be an appeal process in place for young people not happy with their grades. Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler agreed with this, saying that appeals will be made through individual examination boards.

This is good news for those young people worried about the impact poor predicted grades could have on GCSE or A Level results, ultimately impacting their future prospects.

Director of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, Chris Quinn, put it to the politicians that he did not want this Q&A session to just be “a talking shop.” Instead, he urged the politicians to bring this to their colleagues; to put the concerns of young people at the centre of policymaking and ultimately make real change.

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