The Belfast Telegraph’s survey of attitudes among young people in Northern Ireland made for fascinating reading.
In one way it’s encouraging that the next generation is so far ahead of the political parties at Stomont; wanting to be educated together, expecting to play a full range of sports, mixing with people right across the community. In another it’s worrying that many are becoming disengaged and cynical about politics.
Young people, just like many of us who are a little older, are sick of the traditional choice of parties which are Orange, Green or ‘something in between’. The LucidTalk survey showed that they are most concerned about things which affect their every-day lives; their progress at school or college, job prospects, drug and alcohol problems in society.
It’s about time that politics started to focus on these types of things, concentrating on big issues, rather than a big flag. Otherwise more and more of our young people will decide to move away from Northern Ireland and stay away. That would be a terrible pity, because our society has such amazing potential.
We have a beautiful landscape, an education system which produces some great results, people who can be among the most welcoming in the world and a rich, diverse culture. Northern Ireland offers a good lifestyle for those who live here and it has the unique distinction of being a part of the UK which is also on the island of Ireland.
In my job at Belfast Met, I work with young people every day and I know they badly want to see their long-term future in Northern Ireland. In order to keep them here we need to offer a shared, stable society, good relations with our neighbours and a vibrant economy, driven by exports, which provides them with jobs and a good, sustainable standard if loving.
All these things are achievable if our political culture changes and, instead of pressing the old divisive buttons, addresses the issues that matter, works constructively to make Northern Ireland a better place and takes a can-do attitude to problems with society or the economy.
A good start to making that change is to vote for the NI Conservatives in the forthcoming elections.
Mark Brotherston is the NI Conservatives' candidate for the European elections