The Northern Ireland Youth Parliament is in crisis. That’s right, history is repeating itself. So, while Stormont doesn’t look like it will make a comeback from the current political gridlock any time soon, the Youth Parliament doesn’t look like it will make a comeback from its sheer lack of funding. Then, the older generation, with puzzled expressions on their faces, might ask, “Why doesn’t Northern Ireland ever learn? Why can’t it move on?”. The answer couldn’t be simpler. When you don’t support the programmes that are meant to allow for young people to grow of their own accord, repetition is the only one real end in sight, especially in a place like Northern Ireland.
Yet, we still don’t get the funding we need for our youth services. For the recent November Youth Parliament House of Commons debate, there were only an abysmal 5 young people in attendance from Northern Ireland, myself included.
Most don’t even know that there is a Youth Parliament funding crisis within Northern Ireland. I’d even make the easy leap that the average NI citizen hasn’t even heard of any Members of Youth Parliament (MYPs), and that is where the problem lies.
The UKYP has been starved by the complete anonymity it feels in Northern Ireland. When I travelled over to England, on MYP business, I’m always shocked by just how intricate and well-funded the infrastructure for youth services are on the mainland. MYPs and their deputies, Youth Councils and Executives, and more. The Northern Irish provisions pale in comparison, as is often the case when we are compared to anything in mainland UK.
A full Youth Parliament year doesn’t even cost near as much as one might think anyway, at least not for Northern Ireland. Sitting at £26,000, this could be easily paid for by the NI Assembly, without even making a dent in their finances.
I personally have my own idea for where this money could be found, something that mainly started off as a joke in a tweet, before I realised it may be something we ought to seriously consider. With all the calls for the cutting of MLAs Salaries in NI, due to a lack of action on their part, I suggested that we cut £290 from each Members near £50,000 in pay. This gained a little bit of traction on social media, but the real interest was aroused when I brought the idea to actual MLAs.
I regularly try to seek the support of Northern Irish politicians for the UKYP’s future, and through these meetings I met an SDLP MLA, Pat Catney, and one from the DUP, Maurice Bradley. Both of these elected Members stated that they fully support this plan, with Mr. Bradley saying he would be “quite happy” to give up that small share of his salary for the benefit of future generations. Sadly, words are easy, and actions are especially difficult in Northern Ireland, so we will have to wait to truly gauge the support for this potential cut.
Something needs to change. For the Youth Parliament to be taken seriously, and for it to get the funding it deserves, across the UK, it must be in the mainstream. It must be seen and it must be heard. Until we get Votes at 16, this is one of the few outlets that can be used to get the youth voice heard and it must be supported by people of all ages.
You can help with that. Share everything that is Youth Parliament on social media. Get liking, sharing, following and retweeting. Spread the accomplishments and news of the Youth Parliament as far as you can. Everyone involved, or who was previously involved, with this amazing institution is trying to do their bit to try and save it, because they, like myself, have felt the truly positive impact it can have on the lives of young people.
However, we aren’t enough, and we need as much help s we can get, from people exactly like you. Let’s work together and help the future young people of the UK, lets help them have this amazing platform for self-expression and growth. Let’s try to break down the barriers in Northern Ireland.