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Could be better: verdict of the Good Friday generation on living in NI

By Laura Abernethy

Published 06/02/2016

Ellie Heaney of Our Lady and St Patrick's College
Ellie Heaney of Our Lady and St Patrick's College

Teenagers want to see united communities, better infrastructure and more opportunities or they may be forced to leave Northern Ireland, according to a conference for young leaders.

More than 85 sixth form pupils from Belfast schools met at Ulster University yesterday for the Let Them Speak: Listening To Our Young Leaders conference.

As the first generation of post-Good Friday Agreement babies, they have a unique perspective on a Troubles-free province, and what improvements could be made.

The students were split into mixed groups and tasked with giving four-minute presentations about what they view as the biggest problems here, and how they could be tackled.

As they prepare to finish school, many said they were split between staying in Northern Ireland or moving away, and said changes were needed to make remaining here a more attractive prospect.

The teenagers raised issues ranging from homelessness and suicide, to education and improving infrastructure in the city. They also said they wanted to see communities working together, and politicians leaving the past behind.

They pitched their ideas to a panel including Belfast deputy Lord Mayor Guy Spence, PSNI Superintendent Bobby Singleton and Chief Commissioner for the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland Dr Michael Wardlow.

Mr Spence said: "All of you have ideas about political leaders but I hope I've broken them. You don't have to be a 50-year-old man with grey hair, with backward views. You can be involved in politics and can try to make this city and this region move forward.

"What we have to do for you as young people is encourage you to stay here. We need to inspire you. From what I've heard you do today, you want to take the lead. The future that you are talking about doesn't belong to the generation of the past, but it belongs to each and every one of you."

The event was part of the 4 Corners Festival, which aims to bring people from across Belfast together to share new perspectives.

So, what do our school pupils really think about living here?

Ellie Heaney (17)

Our Lady and  St Patrick’s College

What are the best things about living in Northern Ireland?

I think the education system here is great. I think there’s a great focus on learning here. My education has set me up for wherever I go in the future.

And the worst things?

The people who are in charge of our political system are living in the past. They dwell on the divisions. I think it’s time we moved on.

Stuart Graham (17)

Grosvenor Grammar School

What are the best things about living in Northern Ireland?

Everyone is really friendly and welcoming here and although we are a small country, there is always lots to do. Northern Irish people are also very passionate about sport and I love being able to go and see that.

And the worst things?

I think entrepreneurship isn’t encouraged enough. A lot of people are forced down traditional career paths, but I think there are a lot of inventive people here who could make a difference if they were encouraged more.

Nicola Elliott (18)

Abbey Community College

The best things?

 It’s a small place and I think that means you get to know people from all over the place. When you go to university, you’ll meet people from all over Northern Ireland but you’ll be able to keep in touch because it’s not very big. 

And the worst things?

I don’t like how people view Northern Ireland. They think that bombs go off left right and centre. When you live here, you see Belfast differently but you have to defend it to other people.

Vincent Cooley (17)

Our Lady and St Patrick’s College

The best things?

The people here. I think everyone gets on much better now, compared to 20 years ago. And of course, the golf is pretty good here as well.

And the worst things?

I think we need to bring in more tourists. There should be more done to encourage tourists from everywhere to visit and bring in more money.

Kirsten Webb (18)

Methodist College

The best things?

I think it’s a very friendly place to live. There’s a lot going on and there’s lots of diversity which makes it more inclusive.

And the worst things?

As a young person, I think there’s a lack of education here about politics. I think politics is sometimes brushed under the table and politicians don’t

do enough to involve younger people.

Niall Cullen (17)

St Patrick’s College, Belfast

The best things?

 I think there’s a real community feeling here. People have common courtesy here. Belfast has a friendly feeling and it’s always buzzing. I enjoyed growing up here.

And the worst things?

The divide is still there and it’s not a nice thing to be brought up with. I think it has improved in my lifetime and I hope within the next 10 years  that will be eradicated.

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