Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Inspired by Obamas, young call for an end to age bias

Michelle Obama pictured backstage at the Waterfront Hall  with Queen's University student and member of Belfast City Council Youth Forum, Denise Fuenzalida
Michelle Obama pictured backstage at the Waterfront Hall with Queen's University student and member of Belfast City Council Youth Forum, Denise Fuenzalida

Young people were already helping shape their own future at the Assembly yesterday -- just two days after Obama told them to.

You can't say our youth are not quick on the uptake.

Members of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF) took the President's advice to heart when they appeared before the committee which monitors the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and called for an end to age discrimination.

They also gave committee members the experience of a high-frequency blast from a Mosquito Anti-Loitering Device, which they say are routinely used to disperse young people from outside shops and public places.

Eoighan Rafferty, of the Youth Forum's Champions 4 Change project, said they wanted to give MLAs a practical demonstration of how people of his age suffer discrimination on a daily basis.

"In Northern Ireland, those who provide services to the public have a legal duty not to discriminate on the grounds of disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief or political opinion, but they are perfectly able to discriminate against people on the grounds of age," he said.

"We are arguing that this must end. Every day in our towns and cities schoolchildren are ordered to leave their bags outside shops before they can enter. If they forced women, disabled people or black people to do the same, it would cause an outcry."

NIYF director Chris Quinn said a change in goods, facilities and services legislation to end age discrimination was also a key issue for young people.

"President Obama has spoken about the power of young people to shape the future. This is an example of young people taking an interest in what's happening in their own society and wanting to change it for the better," he argued.

"The legislation is focused on how the public has access to goods and services. We believe that the public should be able to access them regardless of age."

Yesterday's NIYF delegation had been invited to provide the final submission on the extension of age discrimination legislation to the provision of goods, facilities and services, arguing that current legislation infringes the human rights of young people.

In an Assembly debate, Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon, at 21 the youngest MLA and who is a member of the OFMDFM committee, said young people were discriminated against in a number of ways including the provision of mental health services and age differential in the minimum wage.

Barack Obama was accompanied by his wife Michelle during his address at the Waterfront Hall on Monday. She made an inspirational speech and met young people including Denise Fuenzalida from Belfast City Council Youth Forum.

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