Belfast Telegraph

Speaker's Commonwealth rallying cry

The republican Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly has marked his first Commonwealth Day with an event for young people.

Mitchel McLaughlin, who said he had set aside his personal politics to lead the Assembly's Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), told the teenage audience they had the potential to transform local politics.

The Sinn Fein MLA said: "You don't carry the same baggage and scars with you that the rest of us do.

"That is bound to put you in a better position to develop the relationships across the community and to reach the agreements required to make progress in our political system."

The 69-year-old from the nationalist Bogside in Londonderry was elected Speaker earlier this year after securing a cross community vote.

He took over from the DUP's Willie Hay who stood down last October due to ill health. Mr Hay has since taken up a set in the House of Lords.

In his speech, Mr McLaughlin called for the Assembly to do more to engage young people.

"All of us in this Assembly realise that there is a challenge about the perception that many people will say they aren't interested in politics," he added.

"We shouldn't pigeon hole young people into only being interested in certain issues.

"On the contrary, the greater the number of perspectives involved, the better a decision is likely to be. Young people have a different and important voice to be heard."

Last week Mr McLaughlin appealed for greater efforts to encourage more women to become MLAs including changing the Assembly's daily timetable to facilitate mothers.

The CPA's Northern Ireland Assembly Branch has taken part in Commonwealth Day commemorations for the last seven years, holding themed events in Parliament Buildings.

In 2013 the event was held outside Stormont for the first time at Magee College in Derry.

This year's event was themed A Young Commonwealth and also included speakers from the Scottish Youth Parliament, Public Achievement, Where is My Public Servant? (WIMPS) as well as performances from musicians .

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