Young voices tell MLAs: do more to end division

Young people growing up since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement are still acutely aware of divisions in everyday life in Northern Ireland – and they want those divisions broken down.

A two-year engagement project with 16-24 year olds in Northern Ireland found that the majority see themselves as living in a divided society and want political leaders to do more to address that situation. The Integrated Education Fund sought the views of thousands of young people through independent surveys and face-to-face meetings. The results of that work, the IEF’s “Young People’s Voices” report was presented at Stormont today (Wednesday 16 September) to an audience of MLAs, senior civil servants, educationalists and community leaders. The event was sponsored by Stephen Agnew MLA, Michael McGimpsey MLA and Fra McCann MLA and was hosted by radio presenter Pete Snodden.

The Fund’s work with independent researchers, youth and community groups and more than 2,000 young people has resulted in a picture of a generation growing up divided but with a determination to see divisions dismantled.

The clear message to politicians is that progress towards a united community is too slow. Many young people feel that they are affected negatively by segregation in housing and education and also feel let down by the education system when it comes to the jobs market.

In her foreword to the report, NI Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma says “This report provides an important contribution to the debate we must have in NI about the type of education system we need going forward. The young people have clearly stated that “doing nothing” is not an option; they are calling for a more integrated community and an education system that does not divide them on the basis of religion, gender or class and which gives them the best opportunities to realise their potential.

Whilst many of the young people interviewed are clearly the decision makers of tomorrow, they have the right to have their views and experiences listened to, and taken into account TODAY. We, as a Society, ignore their voices at our peril.”

Past pupil of Strangford Integrated College Jake Proctor, who’s is 18, presented the findings on behalf of the IEF and joined a panel of young people who had been involved in the project to discuss their perceptions and aspirations for the future of Northern Ireland. He says there is a message of optimism in the report:

“What we all have to take from this report is that young people are willing to create more social cohesion… they have shown a willingness to tackle the problems and leap the obstacles. They are aspiring to see cultural integration and an inclusive Northern Ireland. The coming generation of leaders is committed to correcting past mistakes, and to making change.”

Main findings include: 

• Only a minority of young people say they live in a mixed area

• Out of 1400 people aged 17/18 questioned for the Young Life and Times Survey the strongest perception of division was by reason of religious background

• More than 80% of those questioned agree that an education system bringing children of all faiths and none together in the same schools would be an important step in combatting sectarianism.

• A majority of young people questioned show a lack of confidence in the economic and employment prospects for Northern Ireland

• An independent polling company found that less than half of 18-24 year olds in Northern Ireland feel that politicians are moving Northern Ireland towards peace

You can read the full report here