Exploring the Role of Westminster in Northern Ireland

Emily Crudden McIlhatton
Emily Crudden McIlhatton
May 8, 2024
Exploring the Role of Westminster in Northern Ireland

A year to the day after our ‘What Peace Means to Me’ event to mark 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement, Politics in Action hosted another seminal event, focusing on the Role of Westminster in Northern Ireland.  We brought together over 200 young people across 16 schools in Northern Ireland and Donegal.  We also welcomed youth work partners from the Secondary School’s Students Union, Diverse Youth NI and the UK Youth Parliament.  The young people came together to present their manifesto ideas to the Secretary of State and local MPs ahead of the UK General Election.

The event was hosted in Queen’s University Belfast’s Whitla Hall and began with a ‘marketplace style’ to allow the young people to exchange their ideas. Over the last few months, our school clusters have been developing their own manifestos ahead of the UK General Election, to highlight what they deem to be the key issues facing the government. The young people were delighted to share their ideas with one another, and with their elected representatives.  

We welcomed special guests, including the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton Harris.  The SoS interacted with each of our cluster groups to discuss the ideas presented within their manifestos.  The young people had the opportunity to question the SoS on his role in NI, and how he can help to implement their ideas into government policy. Speaking to Cool FM at the event, the SoS remarked,

“Projects like this are so unbelievably useful... to see a common theme about pressures around mental health and their concerns about that is genuinely interesting and super worthwhile”

The SoS was immensely impressed by the young people and their “passionate and articulate ideas” as he said, “I'm always positive about the future of Northern Ireland but I know it's going to be good talking to them.”

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We also welcomed Northern Ireland MPs, including MP for South Belfast, Claire Hanna (SDLP), MP for West Belfast, Paul Maskey (Sinn Féin) and MP for North Down, Stephen Farry (Alliance). The MPs also had the opportunity to chat to the young people, discussing their ideas and explaining their role as a Northern Irish MP in Westminster.

Following on from our marketplace format, we moved to the stage to hear from our panels. Politics in Action’s Executive Director, Paul Smyth, offered a welcoming address and introduced our panels. We began with a political panel, featuring our guest MPs. The panel was chaired by Dr David McCann, who questioned the MPs on the role they play in Westminster, and how their work may be influenced by the young voices in the room. We then opened the panel to questions from the audience, where our young people asked wonderful, thought-provoking questions.

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Our second panel featured youth voices from across our projects, in addition to guests from SSUNI, Diverse Youth and the UK Youth Parliament. The youth panel was chaired by PiA participant Kazim Tug and featured PiA participants Chloe Martin and Sabrina Baptista from our cross-border ‘Poreto’ project, Luc Berthelot from SSUNI, Inioluwa Olaosebikan from Diverse Youth NI and Ryan Kearney from the UKYP. The youth panel discussed their own experiences getting involved in politics and urged the other young people in the audience to remain persistent and always ensure their voices are heard! They voiced their opinions about some important issues, including mental health, climate change and Votes at 16 in Northern Ireland! Our Panel Chair Kazim thanked Politics in Action as he explained, “Politics in Action is trying to not just elevate our political understanding and political education and our involvement in politics, they’re also trying to elevate individuals to become better versions of ourselves.” Chloe also explained that she, “continued on because I just loved how Politics in Action gives such an amazing opportunity to make your voice heard.”

We would like to thank everyone who attended the event, especially to those who participated in our projects to make the work we do possible! We would like to thank Queen’s University Belfast for hosting the event and to our facilitators, photographers and technical support. A huge thank you to our funders including the National Lottery Community Fund, the International Fund for Ireland, The Ireland Funds, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the Rank Foundation.  Finally, a very special thanks to the Secretary of State and the local MPs who attended to hear about the excellent work our young people have been doing!

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