Niesha Kelly, Member of Youth Parliament for North Antrim
I am currently doing my GCSE’s and intend to study Government & Politics, English, Business and Art & Design at Slemish College Ballymena, for my A-levels.
I only recently got involved in youth politics when I heard about the United Kingdom Youth Parliament (UKYP), from a former Member of Youth Parliament (MYP). From a young age, I have always loved debating and public speaking, so when I heard about UKYP I eagerly applied and thankfully got elected!
On the 13th November, I travelled to House of Commons, Westminster, with my fellow Northern Irish MYPs to participate in the annual sitting of UKYP. It was an incredible experience and has developed my knowledge, passion and interest for politics. I contributed to the debate on increasing awareness of mental health, an issue I feel very passionately about, as it formed the basis for my individual campaign. Tackling the stigma surrounding poor mental health across all generations is crucially important in today’s society. Everyone is entitled to support, education and knowledge on mental health and illness.
I am also very passionate about equal rights and building a society where no individual is discriminated against for their class, religion and so forth. I believe everyone should be able to contribute to society and have influence in matters that affect them. This is how we can move on from past politics into a more positive future for NI politics.
Being an MYP has been such an incredible life changing experience. I have met wonderful people from all across the UK and have had amazing opportunities to travel. Every minute has been an educational journey and I intend to continue working in the UKYP as an elected MYP in years to come.
As I am 15, I intend to explore different career paths such as dancing and the GAA, but I would love to eventually become more involved in politics. My advice as an MYP to other young people: explore different aspects of politics, listen to others’ viewpoints, challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to speak up on issues that affect you.
Nicole McCann, Member of Youth Parliament for North Belfast
Growing up in one of the most deeply divided societies in Western Europe, I have been surrounded by politics all my life. I became involved in politics when I studied it at AS-level in school. I had the opportunity to take part in the digital democracy workshop in University of Ulster, and as a result received the chance to go to London and debate in the House of Lords. From this, my confidence and interest in politics flourished. I plucked up the courage to run for election as Member of Youth Parliament (MYP) for North Belfast as part of UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) and was lucky enough to get elected!
I had the opportunity to travel across to London again to represent North Belfast in the House of Commons, as part of the UKYP sitting on Friday 13 November 2015, during Parliament Week. Being surrounded by 250 MYPs from across the UK on the green benches of the House of Commons was a fantastic opportunity! After the debate, we voted for the two priority campaigns which UKYP will work on in 2016; supporting an improvement in mental health services and tackling racism and sectarianism.
Personally, I campaign to raise more awareness on the lack of mental health services within Northern Ireland. Currently there is one child and adolescent specialised mental health unit in the whole of Northern Ireland, with only 32 beds. With around 379,300 young people living in Northern Ireland, this is clearly not enough.
Another important issue that I am passionate about, is women’s representation in democracy. Women constitute half of the world’s population and our voices play a vital role in the democratic process. The UKYP aimed for greater representation of women, and this was evident when 11 out of 12 of those delivering Magna Carta speeches on the day were women. The sitting itself was gender balanced, which sets a good example for today’s government.
To any young people who are interested in politics, voice your views and opinions appropriately, but be yourself. Politics is everywhere, so keep an eye out and grasp any opportunities to get involved that come your way!
Gareth Hampton, Member of Youth Parliament for Newry and Armagh
I am currently studying Maths, Physics, History and Government & Politics, for A-Level at The Royal School, Armagh. I became involved in politics in my early teens, I found elections fascinating and always tuned in to watch them.
However, it was only really when I found the Youth Parliament that politics took more of a centre stage in my life, and I have loved every minute of it!
On 13 November 2015, the Youth Parliament held a sitting in the House of Commons Chamber to debate issues that just fewer than 1 million young people voted for. I felt proud to represent the young people of Newry and Armagh and the experience was unforgettable. I was privileged enough to be able to speak on the issue of public transport, and stressed the needs for better links within the constituency.
I believe knowledge of politics helps young people bring about social change. The issues I am passionate about are transport, recreational shared space for young people, and tackling racism and religious discrimination. In the future, I would be interested in a career in politics; however, I would like to see what the world has to offer first.
The election for Member of Youth Parliament was one that filled me with hope and determination. I loved meeting new people and speaking to them on what issues they found important as well as getting them involved. I have a lot of friends, family and indeed my school to thank for the election campaign.
My advice to young people who would like to be involved in politics is get out there, see what issues matter to you, speak to your MYP to see if they have any events, email your MLA, or you could consider starting a Facebook page devoted to your issue.