Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 7 May 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Changing Attitudes towards the European Union: Discussion
We have quite a number of guests today, so I will limit each speaker to about three or four minutes. I ask members to limit their contributions as well. It is a Thursday and I know some members have constituency engagements. We have a photo shoot at 3.15 p.m., so we need to be done and dusted by then. The photo shoot is for Europe Day and all committee members and the Ceann Comhairle will be there.
I ask people, including those in the Visitors Gallery, to switch off their mobile telephones as they interfere with the equipment. Putting them on silent mode does not help.
Today, we are marking Europe Day in the Oireachtas. The committee will begin its consideration of the challenges facing Europe and the changing attitudes to the European Union. We have invited a number of citizen groups. We are joined by representatives of the Irish Countrywomen's Association and Active Retirement Ireland as well as by a number of people from Youth Work Ireland and by Ms Noelle O'Connell, who we all know from the European Movement. We will hear contributions from each of those organisations and then we will have some questions from members.
Anecdotal and statistical evidence points to a decline in support across the European Union for the European project. That decline in support is mirrored somewhat in Ireland as well. At the same time, we have seen a rise in support for extreme right and left-wing politics in Europe. It is, therefore, a useful opportunity, during Europe Week, to have a discussion about this rise in extremism, which is why we invited in these groups from across Irish society to hear their views.
We are keen to find out what they think could be done to try to lead to an increase in support for and engagement in the European project. We are hoping to gain an insight into and better understanding of issues in respect of changing attitudes towards Europe.
Before we begin I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not make charges, criticise or comment on a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. If you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of the evidence you give. You are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that you should not criticise or make charges against an entity or individual either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
We will start with Mrs. Elizabeth Wall, national president of the Irish Countrywomen's Association.
Mrs. Elizabeth Wall:
My name is Liz Wall and I am the national president of the Irish Countrywomen's Association. On behalf of my fellow board members I thank the joint committee for this kind invitation to discuss changing attitudes to the European Union, as perceived among the members of the largest membership organisation of women in Ireland. In preparation for this presentation I held a series of interviews with a number of current federation presidents, members of our board, former presidents and some guild members. I asked them a series of questions about their attitudes to the European Union and, although anecdotal, I will report on their responses.
The ICA was founded in Wexford in 1910. Since the start, the ICA has tackled the big issues of the day. Before modern-day Europe was born in 1957 the ICA was instrumental in providing practical support in the development of basic utilities in Ireland such as water and electricity. Before setting out the finer details of the responses I wish to highlight some of the ways the ICA is committed to the European project. Although I will touch on some of the evidence of changing attitudes I am keen to reiterate that historically and in particular during my presidency, the ICA has always strongly supported the European project.
I represent more than 10,000 women. Two areas of significant importance to our members are family and health. The women of the ICA look to Europe to ensure that important issues like child care and early education are high on the agenda of policy makers. Some of the mothers and grandmothers in the ICA have children with special needs. They look to Europe for support for inclusive schooling and specialised staff. Through our membership of the Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union, COFACE, we have been able to push a number of policy recommendations that have come from European institutions. We have been members of the organisation since 1957. Without this link to Europe the ICA would not have been able to participate with COFACE in lobbying for more family-friendly policies over the years.
Let us turn to the matter of health. Last month, together with the European Parliament information office in Ireland, the ICA held a symposium on health issues and initiatives focused on promoting good health in older people. The event looked at solutions to the challenges facing rural communities in particular. Contributors spoke about how they overcome their problems and what their communities are faced with today. One of the areas covered was the Europe against cancer programme initiated by the European Council. The ICA was active in pushing for national breast cancer screening and more recently the ICA was part of a successful campaign to extend BreastCheck to women aged 65 and 69 years of age. The fact that I know the Commission has recently established a new expert group on cancer control gives me the support I need to tell my members that Europe is fighting for cancer control.
I will outline some information on the interviews I held with our current and former presidents and other members of the ICA. I asked the members only to speak about the past three years, as this covers my term in office. All of the women I polled were aged 50 years and over. The main response I received from the ICA women was that they strongly support the European project. Members believe that the European directives, where implemented by the Government, have been successful. These have included family, health, fiscal and farming policies. When asked the direct question, "Do you think that there has been declining support for the EU project in the past three years?" the overwhelming answer among ICA members was "No." When asked if they believed they had been supported by Europe in the past three years I received a resounding "Yes". I asked for examples of this and the members took the view that they had been bailed out by Europe and that we would not have the economy and stability we are now beginning to notice without the help of Europe. Members representing the farming sector commented on the lifting of the milk quotas as being a boon to our dairy farmers. The quality of our new roads and infrastructure was another example of the reason for their support. The EU healthy eating policies that have been implemented in Irish schools came up as another area cited positively. Members of the ICA believe that for a small country we have a big voice in Europe and they believe this is thanks to the outstanding work of the 11 Irish MEPs. The support for the MEP structure and their role is strong. Some of the members I spoke to have second homes in France and Spain. They commented that rural communities in Ireland seem to have fared better than elsewhere and referred to help from French and Spanish communities. Some members took the view that even if the United Kingdom left the EU, Ireland would not suffer unduly since Ireland's relationship with Europe is so strong. ICA members believe that the European equality directives have helped women in Ireland in terms of our equality laws.
However, it is not all positive. Members felt that the Irish were dealt with very harshly by the troika and that austerity measures imposed upon us were too severe. They also expressed the view that European policy makers often seem rather remote or removed from the understanding of the everyday life of an Irish person, particularly with reference to losing our well-educated young people, who have been forced to emigrate. I thank the committee members for their attention.
Ms Maureen Kavanagh:
I thank the Chairman, Deputy Dominic Hannigan, and the other committee members for the invitation to speak today. I will set out a little background. Active Retirement Ireland is a national network of over 560 local active retirement associations across the breath of Ireland, south and north of the Border. Each is self-managed and run by older people by themselves and for themselves. We have over 24,500 members in the organisation from the age of 50 years upwards to 100 years. We operate across nine regions. Our mission is to reach out to all older people to stop loneliness through friendship and support. Our organisation has been a member of AGE Platform Europe since 2009. We are pleased AGE Platform Europe is seeking consultative status at the Council of Europe in order that it can participate more in debates.
I will set out our views on older people in Europe. The current generation of older people includes those aged 55 years plus. It is not a homogeneous group and we have members from 55 years right up to 100 years of age. This includes several generations. They have strong memories of Ireland pre-1973. The country was post-colonial and rather inward focused. Pre-EEC Ireland was an unequal and unfair society. One example of this was the so-called marriage bar, removed in 1973. It would not have been removed were it not for Ireland wanting to get into the EEC at the time and the provision that we had to put in place some equality laws for that to happen and so on. That policy cost an entire generation of women their own pension rights. This is only beginning to emerge today in terms of policies that acted against women's equality. Irish equality legislation, including measures to address ageism, was practically non-existent prior to EEC membership. Since then, however, we have seen the Equal Status Act 2000 as well as the Employment Equality Act 1998. These are all in the memories of people who have gone through the labour force.
Older people have seen the European Union bring major improvements to Irish infrastructure. When we ask people throughout the country about it they talk of the new roads. They still refer to these as the new roads although they may have been in place for some time. We have preserved rural Ireland by attracting businesses and investment to rural Ireland. All this is due to EU support. This is in the memory of people as a result of coming into the EU. We are aware of the influence of European Social Fund programmes throughout the years for women's projects, communities, child care, youth projects and more. These have impacted throughout Ireland and have helped to build excellent infrastructure and child care centres throughout Ireland that are run in communities by communities.
Farmers across Ireland have seen improvements in their standard of living and have been able to avail of improvements and developments in their sector. This is in the living memory of our members.
The developments, however, are not all positive. The dreaded regulations are sometimes feared more than necessary, for example, there was a fear that we would all be eating straight bananas but that did not happen. There was a perception that the EU would bring that down on people. There is a perception that the MEPs and Commissioners are "over there", that it is a cushy number and they are out of touch.
The bailout and recession were seen as the result of EU outsiders wielding influence. Austerity hit older people. Whether due to the EU or not, they lost trust in their banks and institutions. It is all seen as one big pot. That is the negative effect that is hitting people.
The biggest recent changes are the changes in perception. On the positive side, people became more open to older people. I hope that was a change in attitude to Europe rather than a change in attitude to Ryanair but we will say it is a changed attitude to Europe. Tourism has rejuvenated urban and rural areas in Ireland and has provided opportunities for older people to go to the Continent and see it in its entirety.
Flexicurity of pensions has allowed many older people move around Europe for long periods of time and make retirement homes in warmer climes for three to six months. MEPs organise trips to Brussels and Strasbourg for active retirement associations. That is very popular and has opened up Europe for people to see the different structures there.
We have changed our attitudes over the past 32 years but there is more to do. The EU can regain the trust of older people through the role it plays in equality legislation. Ireland’s ageism laws are non-existent. The EU can play a stronger role in that regard. Ageism is rife in every part of Irish society. We are all ageist in our own way and need to be more aware of that. The EU can take a lead role in ensuring that older people’s voices are heard in tourism, consumer protection, health policies in particular, and the whole concept of healthy and positive ageing. The National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG, centre did research for us a couple of years ago with active retirement members which found that by participating in activities that make their lives more active and engaged and less lonely, they contribute the equivalent of €15 million a year to their own health. There is a big agenda in protecting the human rights of older people. We would like to see the working group do more work on that non-binding instrument on the promotion of human rights for older people. That work needs to be linked to other instruments, such as the Madrid international plan on ageing and the global network of age-friendly cities and communities, because we have a national positive ageing strategy in Ireland but we do not have an implementation plan. While attitudes to the EU have certainly changed and many older people can see the benefits, there is more work to be done and we would be very willing to engage in that work on health promotion, policy, ageism and human rights.
Ms Danielle Gayson:
I thank the committee for this opportunity to speak. Máiréad Coady, Rebecca Lambe and I are here to represent Youth Work Ireland. Generally, young people could not care less about the EU. In school, we learn that there are 28 member states but that is about all we learn. It is covered under Civic, Social and Political Education, CSPE, but only ad hoc. Some people have a lot of knowledge if they have an interest in politics but that depends on the person and not everyone will have the same knowledge of the EU. The teaching of the subject varies from school to school. There is no consistent training in the teaching of the topic. The language used in all EU promotional materials and policies is very inaccessible. For example, what are “synergies”, or even something as simple as MEP? Many do not even know what MEP means, let alone who are the MEPs.
There are two areas of EU youth strategy which are very relevant to the lives of young people in Ireland today, the structured dialogue process and youth exchanges. As we have direct involvement with this, the focus of our presentation today will be on these two areas.
Ms Máiréad Coady:
I will speak about the structured dialogue process because I have been involved in it since last October. I stress, however, that is a very rare thing and my friends, let alone every young person in Ireland, do not know what I am doing.
The structured dialogue process is the way the EU gathers opinions and information from young people on youth policies. It is run by the European Commission. I returned last night from a review of the process in Brussels and I have attended two conferences, in Rome and Riga. There are positive aspects of the structured dialogue process, such as bringing everyone together and having a forum to discuss our views on a European level, which has great potential to change the lives and policies for young people, which it tries to do. There is, however, always a “but”; current effectiveness is very questionable. Ireland and Britain are the only two countries sending young people. One sees young people aged 30 and more, who are irrelevant. Ireland is leading on the consultation side compared with other countries. Young voices is our consultation process. It is a quite elitist group as is the content being discussed. We have to challenge views such as young people not being relevant actors in the political process. That was a comment I heard at one of the conferences. There is no diversity in the groups at all.
Ms Danielle Gayson:
I will discuss youth exchanges. ERASMUS Plus, European Voluntary Service, EVS, and Léargas all fund youth exchanges. Young people can go on exchanges. Ms Lambe went to London on an exchange, which was a fantastic experience. I am going to Greece at the end of summer to learn about health and fitness, and culture. Often there is little for the EVS volunteers to do in Ireland. The challenge for them is the massive amount of paper work involved. People are turned off applying because they will have to do all this paper work. A massive part of non-engagement is the bureaucracy involved. Young people do not realise these things are funded by the EU. There need to be more ways to inform people about the opportunities in the EU.
Ms Máiréad Coady:
We are not all negative. We do have some solutions or what we see as solutions. Promoting the EU is all about how it is relevant to young people. We call for the simplification of all EU language and terminology. It is very difficult for young people to understand what this is all about when the terms used are like another language. The Comhairle na nÓg youth councils could provide a very good opportunity for young people to learn about the EU and get involved in decision-making at EU level. Making youth structures accessible to all, reaching seldom heard, hard to reach young people is difficult for all Irish-based participation structures but we need as a society to find ways of engaging with them to ensure their voices are heard at all levels, including at European level. This should be more relevant in courses, such as using community work. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs should be discussing the EU structured dialogue process and its role in it.
Ms Coady thinks this committee should be more involved in the structured dialogue process. It might be useful if she could send us a letter outlining how we could do that and what would be useful. We would certainly consider it at a future meeting and bring the witnesses back to discuss that issue specifically.
I thank the young people for their honesty. I see the word “synergies” and although I am on this committee I am still trying to understand what it means to be involved in the debate about the European semester.
It is very convoluted terminology that is used in Europe; most politicians would agree that it is very difficult to come to terms with it. I congratulate the witnesses on their work and hope they enjoyed their trip to Riga and other places. We go to those places as well as part of the European project - maybe one day we will bump into each other again.
I have one passing comment for Active Retirement Ireland. I have a bee in my bonnet about our collective attitude to aging and what it means to be old. Every time I have a birthday I say to myself, "my God, they are talking about me". Really, in this day and age should we be classifying 50, 55, 65 and 66 year olds as old people? I am amazed at the number of 100th, 90th or 92nd birthdays I am invited to as a politician. My pastime is climbing mountains and every Sunday I can be found doing anything from four to eight hours in the mountains. I will not tell my age - the witnesses can probably guess by my baldy head.
Ms Noelle O'Connell:
I thank the Chairman and committee members for the opportunity to make a presentation today as part of the Oireachtas Europe week activities. I am the executive director of European Movement Ireland. As members may be aware, our organisation was founded in 1954 to develop the connection between Ireland and Europe. Europe week and Europe day on Saturday are a little bit like Christmas for us - the busiest week of the year. I congratulate the committee on today's initiative. It is an opportune time for us to assess sentiment and public attitudes towards our relationship with Europe. I may have drawn the short straw in following all the excellent presentations; I have a lot of statistics in my address and apologise in advance if it is like death by statistics so soon after lunch. I hope the members will bear with me none the less.
With an impressive 71% turnout, the accession to the European Community referendum was ratified by 83% of the Irish electorate in 1972. In general, our 40-year membership of the EU has been well received and, as was touched upon in some of the earlier presentations, is widely recognised as having been a key enabler in modernising both our economy and our wider society. That said, the past several years were most difficult as the global financial crisis impacted in Ireland with full force. When Ireland exited the external financial assistance programme, commonly known as the troika programme, in December 2013, we were the first programme country to do so. The most recent recession experience has certainly influenced public opinion of and sentiment towards the EU, as it has across the Union and particularly in southern Europe. From 2007, Irish people’s trust in the EU had generally been in decline. To gauge our current attitude, I will refer to some of the most recent opinion polling data which indicate that, notwithstanding many challenges, we continue to retain a positive view of our membership of the EU.
In January 2013 at the start of the 7th Irish EU Presidency, European Movement Ireland commissioned Red C to ascertain Irish people’s views on Irish-EU relations. More than 1,000 people were sampled and the independent poll results were encouraging. They indicated that 85% believed Ireland should remain part of the European Union, while 83% believed Ireland has benefited from membership overall. Just 29% believed that Ireland should leave the EU if the UK decided to do so with only 25% agreeing that Ireland should leave the euro currency. Although that poll took place in January 2013 this last point is of relevance today, the day of the UK general election. Regardless of the decision the UK takes as the term BrExit enters everyday parlance, it was encouraging to see that only 29% believed Ireland should leave the EU if the UK did so.
Eurobarometer No. 82 from November 2014 has returned the most encouraging and most recent results to date. To assess public attitudes towards the EU, Eurobarometer assigned two variables, namely, ‘trust in the EU’ and ‘image of the EU’. Prior to the global financial crisis and subsequent EU-IMF programme, trust in the EU was generally high in Ireland. However, after the first year of the EU-IMF programme distrust in the EU had increased significantly from 39% to 60%. Indeed, during the years 2010 to 2013, public opinion cooled somewhat towards the EU. As trust levels dropped, fewer and fewer Irish people held a positive image of the EU, although Ireland was by no means an outlier in this respect. As of November 2014, trust levels appeared to be on the rise again in Ireland, with 37% of people surveyed saying they now trusted the EU. This is the highest recorded level since the lows of the 2011 crisis. Like trust levels, Irish people’s positive image of the EU had also been in decline in recent years from the previous high levels. The results suggest that a more positive view of the EU is returning with 53% saying they have a positive image of the EU, up 12 points since spring 2014 and 16 points since 2013. Indeed, last November’s Eurobarometer report represents the highest levels of people in Ireland holding a positive image of the EU since 2009.
According to the latest KBC Ireland-ESRI consumer sentiment index, Irish consumer confidence increased in April 2015 to 98.7%. Interestingly, we can see that as growth has returned to Ireland, so too has a more positive attitude towards the EU, albeit in a more measured manner. Similarly, the Eurobarometer report indicated that Irish optimism about the future of the EU rose from 58% in May 2012 to 78% in November 2014, which was the highest across all 28 member states and was set against an EU average of 56%. However, we also need to take on board the fact that 53% of Irish people disagreed with the statement that their voice in the EU counts. This is something Ms Ryan, Ms Gayson and Ms Coady touched upon in their presentations. Clearly much more work needs to be done.
The decline of trust in the EU is not solely tied to growth rates and economic indicators but is more deeply rooted. To fully reverse any downward trends in public opinion, the EU must continue to improve the way in which it interacts and does business with its citizens. In Ireland, the recent upswing in sentiment does not mean that we can be complacent about our future relationship with the EU. It has often been said that national governments are quick to claim credit for any positive news that might originate from the EU while being just as quick to blame Brussels for any bad news or restrictions. It is a difficult balancing act which colours public perception of the EU’s role in people’s daily lives. In turn the EU, its various institutions and elected representatives need to strive to engage with all citizens to improve the results I have outlined in our own poll and the Eurobarometer survey.
I thank the witnesses for their very detailed contributions. It is interesting that we are dealing with an all-women delegation. EU statistics show the high rate of unemployment among women. It is interesting that youth unemployment is extremely high in the EU with approximately 20.8 million people currently unemployed in Europe. Youth unemployment in Greece is running at about 56%. I have always believed that in tough times of austerity, whether in Ireland or elsewhere, that women are always at the coal-face. I am sure many Deputies and councillors have noted that women are either forced out to work or cannot find work or they must work and then deal with child care when they come home. We underestimate the levels of poverty that affect women right across Europe, those in the workplace and women who are not working. I congratulate the delegates on the superb work of their organisations, Active Retirement Ireland and the ICA across the country. I have connections in Waterford with those organisations and they do superb work.
Have the organisations formed contacts with other groups across Europe such as with women's groups or groups representing young farmers or farmers, countrywomen's associations, active retirement groups and youth groups? At this stage it is very important for all of us. It is okay for politicians meeting politicians which happens regularly across Europe. However, it can be difficult for us to meet ordinary, everyday people unless we go to Europe and I have been to many countries in Europe, including Greece, over recent years. Have the delegates been to the European Union and met all our MEPs? I hope they have. Are there similar groups in Europe with which the organisations could interact? I imagine this would be important in the next number of years. I know that opinion polls swing up and down with regard to Europe but there is evidence of a disassociation from Europe on the part of many people. I am not making a political speech but we could be in serious times if the Conservatives are elected in England. I have been to London and to the Houses of Parliament. Even some Labour MPs are advocating that the UK should get out of Europe. Therefore, it is not a foregone conclusion that Britain would not pull out of Europe in a few years time. I do not think they will but I see it as less than 50:50 as it stands. However, organisations more so than politicians have a better chance of meeting ordinary, everyday people who work across Europe. The delegates may be doing this already but it would be very interesting if groups like those here today were to meet up with groups from various countries in Europe. Perhaps an annual meeting could be arranged to share figures and assessments. The delegates could then report back to this committee on the people they met who are in the same situation as women in Ireland. I thank the delegates for their detailed contributions.
I join with the Chairman and other members in welcoming our guests. I will confine my comments to our young speakers. I am sorry that I arrived too late to hear some of the contributions but I heard the overall thrust of them. I wish to be associated with some of Deputy Eric Byrne's comments. The longer we are here the older we get and I speak as someone who is reminded by my wife every day that I am getting closer to a very special birthday in the next few days. I am also speaking as someone who has taken a very active interest in young people's affairs over many years. I go to schools and colleges, sometimes to take it on the chin and to brave it out, but I often say to young people who feel there is a lack of support and a lack of encouragement, that we have to start somewhere and we have to start by acknowledging our mistakes.
Many different parts of society have let down our young people. We need to make a start to redress that. I meet with Deputies, Senators and Ministers from all parties and none who are very determined in that respect. It is important to acknowledge the work of the organisations. Oftentimes we refer to our young people as being the leaders of tomorrow when in fact, here we have leaders of today. Other people will be the leaders of tomorrow and we need to encourage and support them as much as possible. I agree with the Chairman's offer to follow through on the links and the established relationships so that we can help young people on their journey. If we never achieved anything else as parliamentarians and as adults, except playing our part in encouraging our young people and helping them on their journey through the pathways they wish to pursue, then we will have achieved a great deal. I am very happy to affirm the Chairman's offer for the committee to help the organisations achieve this.
I apologise for my late arrival and for missing the presentations but I have read them. I have a question for Ms Noelle O'Connell from European Movement Ireland. Ms O'Connell referred to a decline in trust. Has there been a change in attitude to Europe? When Ireland joined the EEC there was a much more defined party structure and party support and RTE was the means of accessing information. Nowadays news is instant and we have more access to information as to what is happening in other countries. The downturn in the economy has played a large part because for a long time Europe was presented to us as being what we could get out of it in terms of infrastructural or agricultural grants. This attitude has changed in time and we have seen that with the referenda.
I refer to the presentation from Youth Work Ireland. Is the history of the EEC and of post-war Europe taught in the CPSE programme in schools? I have been invited to speak to CPSE classes in schools. Is this happening in all schools? Should CPSE be a compulsory subject? I refer to the practice of discontinuing the teaching of history at leaving certificate level which may cause problems in how historical events are viewed.
To what extent can we engineer a sense of belonging to Europe? The visits to Brussels help to increase knowledge and awareness of Europe and the European project. I note that the ERASMUS programme helps younger people to understand more about what Europe means. What more can be done to try to engineer a better understanding of belonging to the European project? In particular, what can be done with workers who do not have the opportunity of participating in ERASMUS programmes? How can we extend a knowledge and awareness of Europe to the ordinary person working in a factory down the country?
Mrs. Elizabeth Wall:
The ICA is involved in an organisation since 1957 called COFACE, a confederation of family organisations of the EU with a membership of 200 family organisations. We go to Brussels regularly every three months. We held a big conference here in Dublin two years ago. It did not get very much play on the radio and there was no coverage on RTE or in the newspapers yet we had representatives from 50 organisations from all over Europe who came to Dublin Castle for three days.
We discussed a range of issues, including health policies and many other topics that are very relevant to Ireland. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, opened the conference for us but, as I said, it did not get any air time. The message from that forum did not go out to people even though it was very packed every day and there was a lot happening, with seven or eight speakers and break-out groups discussing a range of issues and developments that are happening all over Europe. I am not sure what we could have done to attract more attention. We tried everything but what we ended up with was a missed opportunity. There was a lot of learning in it for Irish people and groups about different organisations in Europe and it could have been very helpful to people. I do not have the answer as to why it did not garner more attention.
Ms Maureen Kavanagh:
Deputy Eric Byrne has given us a fine example of ageism. It was a perfect way for him to begin his contribution. Active Retirement Ireland is concerned with changing attitudes among and about older people. There is no definitive answer as to the age at which a person is categorised as old, but what is true is that we are all getting older. Deputy Byrne spoke about climbing mountains, which I was delighted to hear. Why should we not be climbing mountains as we get older? A group of our members will be going surfing in Bundoran in September. They are all in their 80s but it is something they want to do. It is all about adjusting perceptions about what one can and cannot do as one gets older. Deputy Byrne told us how he is X age and he still climbs mountains. That is what we should be aiming for, but the debate has to happen. The EU could lead on this issue in the same away as it led the fight for equality for women. In the 1970s, for example, it was quite normal to see women in bikinis advertising cars, but as efforts to implement gender equality were advanced, people began to question how women were being portrayed in the media. There should be a similar effort to prevent the media from always depicting older people as being on zimmer frames. That is ageism and the EU could take a massive lead on addressing it.
On the question of measures for workers, members will recall some of the great initiatives that were run under FÁS whereby young workers were able to go abroad to do work experience and bring that back into the workplace. Consideration should be given to developing trans-Europe programmes under which people could work in a company abroad, for example, and gain skills and experience. The possibilities are endless because we are all one. We need to break down borders not just across tourism and active citizenship but across all areas. It is about working towards a union of all the people of Europe.
Ms Máiréad Coady:
Ms Kavanagh referred to young people being able to travel for work under FÁS. In fact, that is still possible and encouraged through ERASMUS, the European Voluntary Service, EVS, and other schemes. One can spend anything from a month to 12 months being paid to live and work in Europe. The problem, however, is the paperwork and jargon involved, and the fear that is associated with it. I do not know who is responsible for it, but the paperwork should be simplified and put into plain English. The greatest problem for young people and people in general when it comes to Europe is the language and jargon used. Certainly, that would be my experience and that of my friends.
Ms Danielle Gayson:
With regard to CSPE and history at second level, I am only in transition year and cannot speak for leaving certificate history. I can say, however, that for junior certificate, we only came up as far as the Second World War. The course focused mainly on the wars, the Renaissance and Irish history. For CSPE, most schools have a class once a week and, even at that, teachers sometimes do not know they will be teaching it until the students come in and sit down with their books. How can we expect young people to learn about issues like Europe and the EU when teachers are given no notice they will be giving the lessons? CSPE needs to be reformed. At the very least, we must ensure teachers are trained to teach it in a more consistent way. Not every school will bring somebody in to discuss a topic; sometimes a project will consist of the class going on a mountain hike, for instance. As part of the CSPE course, time should be allocated to bringing people in to discuss EU issues. That is very important.
Ms Rebecca Lambe:
I studied a subject called social education when I was in school, which I had to do as part of my leaving certificate. It was based around EU and national politics but, as Ms Gayson said, there was a lack of training, with the teachers often not understanding the subject themselves. I agree there should be more training for teachers. The majority of my class failed the subject. That should not have happened because it is about our country and the politicians working for our country.
Ms Rebecca Lambe:
There were no books; we were instructed to get information from the Internet and do project work which was marked by the teacher. There were no books or other study materials, which is why most of us failed the subject. That should not have happened and we should know this information about our country. I am sitting here and I do not really have a clue about the EU. Ms Gayson and Ms Coady had to fill me in this morning before the meeting.
That is borne out by the turnout figures for European elections among young people, although our figures are not as low as they are in some countries. In Slovenia, for example, I understand the figure is 13%, or one in seven. Nevertheless, it is an issue we need to address.
This is a good time to bring in Noelle Ms O'Connell. I understand European Movement Ireland does a lot of work with schools and other organisations to improve knowledge of EU matters. Ms O'Connell might wish to pick up on some of the points the delegates from Youth Work Ireland have raised and address some of the questions put by members.
Ms Noelle O'Connell:
Thank you, Chairman. Ms Coady, Ms Gayson and Ms Lambe referred to improvements that could be made in the history and CSPE courses. The fact that it is no longer compulsory to study history for the junior certificate is an issue that is of some concern to me in this regard in a personal capacity. At primary level, European Movement Ireland runs a Blue Star programme, of which the Chairman and committee have been very supportive. There are 172 primary schools throughout the country involved in it, and as part of their Europe Week activities we will have more than 10,000 pupils-----
I apologise for interrupting Ms O'Connell. A vote has been called in the Dáil, which means we will have to suspend business in four minutes or so. If Ms O'Connell can conclude in that time, it would be great. Otherwise, we will have to come back in about 20 minutes.
Ms Noelle O'Connell:
I am from Cork and can speak very quickly. We are trying to promote greater engagement and awareness about Europe and the EU and facilitate integration in a context where Ireland is becoming increasingly multicultural. More than 10,000 pupils in 172 schools, located in every county, will be shaking hands for Europe as part of their Europe Week activities. There is a model for what might be done at second level based on the success of this programme at primary level. I would be interested to speak about that with the delegates from Youth Work Ireland.
Deputy Kyne asked about Ireland's relationship with the EU and our view on the decline in trust and a positive image.
That is a really valid point. Our relationship with the EU, as both a country and a people, has certainly matured and it is now less viewed through rose-tinted glasses or from the lofty heights as was the case previously. It is more realistic and grounded. For policy wonks such as myself, Eurobarometer reports are really interesting. When one examines the various charts, it is interesting to note that the increase in distrust corresponds directly to the challenges surrounding the financial crisis. However, the position is stabilising and there is more of an element of realism abroad.
Another matter on which the other speakers touched relates to the role of the media. We are keeping a watching brief with regard to, for example, the way in which the general election campaign in the UK is being reported at present. I think a further session with the committee would be required in order to deal with that matter in detail.
Deputy Keating and others referred to youth projects, language, perception and communication. For decades our organisation has been trying to communicate and distil information on all things relating to the EU in as jargon-free a manner as possible. It is a challenge and it is not easy because one is dealing with the alphabet soup of acronyms. However, we do our best. This matter reflects both the multifaceted and complex nature of the EU and Ireland's relationship with it, but just because that is the case does not mean we should not try. Programmes such as ERASMUS and Youth in Action are very important and beneficial in terms of the positive experiences to which the previous speakers referred. The Chairman inquired about this matter from the perspective of workers and I can inform him that there is the ERASMUS for entrepreneurs programme. In a previous life I worked on the INTERREG programme, which was very successful in promoting SME business links between the south east of Ireland and south-west Wales. That was a really practical and solid way of facilitating that level of cross-border business engagement. The challenge is that we must make it relevant to all ages and all lives.
Before we go into private session, I ask that our guests meet us on the plinth at the front of the complex at 3.15 p.m. for the photocall that has been arranged. I thank them for attending and I apologise for rushing proceedings but a vote is taking place elsewhere. We will now go into private session briefly in order to agree to send a letter to the Taoiseach in respect of migration. Is that agreed? Agreed.