Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

Engagement with Ireland's Future (Resumed)

Reverend Karen Sethuraman:

I thank the Senator for her welcome and for a great question. It is a timely question because, as I have shared, in terms of my role in Ireland's Future, I really want to go after what I call the kitchen table conversations. Those conversations are happening around the kitchen table and in businesses. Someone contacted me and told me about a project that was happening, led by a CEO named Jacinta Linden. I had never met her before. She is a hero of community and is the CEO of Bolster Community. She received PEACE IV funding to work with young people. It was to run a programme called Youth Up Front for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. A campaign called Beyond Tolerance involved 120 young people, aged 12 to 15. I really want the committee members to hear this because they are going to hear their voices this morning. I hope we will all pay attention to them. Their idea was to overcome adversity, to build inclusive and cohesive communities and to begin to build leadership skills in the young people.

I approached Ms Linden, told her I was part of the Ireland's Future team and asked her to facilitate three questions from me for the young people. As I mentioned earlier, the starting point with conversation is not to ask people if they want a united Ireland. That is not the place to start, certainly with young people. I pitched three questions to the 13- to 15-year-olds. I explained that this is our home and our home belongs to all of us. I asked how do we make our home a better place to live. I also asked the young people what are their dreams for our future together. My third question, which is for the committee members, asked the young people if they had one message they wanted our Governments to hear, what would it be? I do not have time to read all the responses but I want to read some of them so the committee can hear how important it is that we have these inputs on the table in this conversation.

In response to the question as to how we make our home a better place to live, Éabha, aged 14, said that we need to start by making friends with each other. She said that we are all just human beings. Grace, aged 15, said that she never really gets the chance to meet young people from different religions and have more opportunities to mix and build understanding. James, aged 15, asked why there cannot be more tolerance. He said that surely there is room for all of us, regardless of who we follow. The following one tugged at my heart. Caoimhe, aged 15, said she wants to grow up without ever having to face the sectarianism and danger that her parents faced when they were her age. Those young people's voices matter and we have a duty to pave a way for those young guys.

The second question was what are the young people's dreams for their future together. Éabha, aged 14, dreams that everyone will be treated equally, regardless of race, religion or sexuality. Dan, aged 14, got straight to the question, even though it was not asked. He said that he thinks a united Ireland would be a good future but that he does not want the journey to be too bumpy. Sinéad, aged 14, mentioned integrated education and a lack of conflict. James, aged 15, said that he wants to be a leader who will consider the hopes of others. Tom, aged 14, said that the tensions and fears between all religions and races will end. Not one of these kids gave an answer about flags; they want peace, a future and to share this home together.

I want members to hear the answer to the next question. The children were asked what message they would like their Government to hear. Jessica, aged 15, said that she wants to give everyone an equal chance. Sophie asked the Government to be more accepting, to try to engage with everyone and to consider all options before making impactful decisions. Christina, aged 14, asked the Government to get rid of sectarianism and discrimination. James, aged 15, said that we need kindness in our Government, that we have so much to live for and asked the Government to give us hope for a better future. I love the answer of Jana, aged 14. She asked the Government to listen to children because they want a future in Northern Ireland. She also said that young people need more opportunities to get together and understand better.

That is a little snippet of from 120 young people from all backgrounds taking part in a PEACE IV programme. We have a duty to honour their young voices. They are not just our future but our today. They are the voices that matter as we shape our future in terms of the role of Ireland's Future and of other organisations that take part in conversations.


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