THE Newry and Mourne Youth Council held a hustings conference last week ahead of next month’s Assembly election.
The event was organised to provide young people with the chance to voice their concerns and raise burning issues with candidates from a number of political parties in the upcoming election.
Candidates in attendance from a number of local constituencies included Patrick Brown (Alliance), Danny Kennedy (UUP), Conor Murphy (Sinn Fein), Justin McNulty (SDLP), Emmet Crossan (CISTA), Rowan Tunnicliffe (Green Party), the DUP’s William Irwin and Gary Hynds (Conservatives).
The Youth Council acts as a representative voice of young people from the Newry and Mourne area and develops social action programmes based on issues identified by young people as important to them.
The group is supported by the Education Authority’s Southern Region and is based at Newry’s Youth Resource Centre. The Council also runs the Youth and Future Talent Awards which were created to help raise the profiles of the work young people are involved in across the district.
In addition, the group aims to highlight “unsung heroes” who don’t normally receive recognition.
The recent hustings event was chaired by Dr. Briege Rice who described it as a “wonderful opportunity” for the young people of Newry and Mourne to engage with their local politicians in anticipation of the forthcoming election.
“As our future leaders, it is encouraging to see our young people taking an interest in politics. Meeting the candidates will foster their interest even more and will no doubt lead to many fruitful discussions,” she added.
James Treanor, a peer support worker with the Youth Council, said the hustings event was aimed at young people, some of whom will be voting for the first time on March 2.
“The event was organised so they could raise issues they have with candidates and find out what each one stands for so that they can make their vote count. I think it speaks volumes that nearly all the parties sent a candidate to this event which gave the young people the chance to ask their questions and will allow them to make a more decisive decision come election day as to who will best represent them in Stormont,” he added.
Each of the candidates introduced themselves and gave a brief outline of their background, their party and what they stand for, which was followed by questions from the audience. The burning topics included education, youth service cuts and Brexit, with each candidate asked what their party can offer that the others cannot.
The young people said they left the event “feeling more informed” about each of the candidates and where they stood on the issues that matter to them.
Youth Council chairperson, Conor McLoughlin, said the event allowed young people to finally make their own decisions on who they should vote for, without having to rely on the opinions of others.
He added: “The event provided the young people with an opportunity to ask questions they felt needed to be answered to help them decide who can best represent them in today’s political world.”