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Do Wexford's first junior councillors have the answer to mental health issues?

We asked Wexford’s first Junior Council about what they think of President Trump, the homeless crisis, and local politics.
Feb 11th 2017, 7:30 AM 8,317 6

WEXFORD HAS JUST set up a junior county council – one of the first for Ireland.

They have four representatives from six secondary schools who are involved in a pilot scheme, and will meet once every two weeks to discuss their opinions on local issues.

Already, their priorities tell a lot about where our future is headed (if the right people are put in charge).

We spoke to the Junior Council’s Cathaoirleach Karen, and leas-Cathaoirleach Daniel, about some of the issues they want to focus on: with mental health and climate change at the top of their agenda.

Daniel is a 16-year-old transition year student who’s involved in entrepreneurial projects like AIB’s Build a Bank, where he and three others sell environmentally-friendly handmade candles.

With a background in farming, Daniel saw notices in St Peter’s College, was nominated by his school to the junior council and was elected leas Cathaoirleach.

17-year-old Karen is the head of the student council for Presentation Secondary School, which aimed to represent the students’ views in relation to some school rules (like allowing students to wear black socks as well as green, and loosening a ban on nail polish to allow shades of red.)

Karen says that she wants to be the voice for her classmates and other young people and one of the main skills you need to do that is confidence, leadership, and to be a good communicator.

“I don’t want to seem above everyone else, I want people to be able to chat with me.”

Daniel says that a lot of people at his school are talking about Trump, and although he sees President Trump as “a serious problem”, what he really had trouble understanding was that people support him – even in his own school.

But taking other people’s views on board doesn’t seem to be a problem for Daniel and the early meetings of the junior council: “The people on the junior council have been really cooperative, civilised and there have been no arguments.”

But Trump’s not a problem they’re going to tackle. Wexford junior council want to get involved in issues much closer to home.

Climate change, mental health and homelessness

DSC_0307 Source: Wexford County Council

Daniel says he joined the council to represent the school and young people in Wexford across a range of issues, and one of the things he feels most passionately about is climate change – an issue that will affect future generations much more than current politicians’ generation.

“That’s not just going to affect us in a couple of years – it’s affecting us right now.”

They’re discussing different ways of promoting anti-littering without spending a lot of money, like promoting more people to drive hybrid cars: “I often see empty charging bays and that doesn’t seem right,” says Daniel.

Junior Council Promo 1 Karen is a fifth year student Karen says politicians need to reach out to young people more to help them understand the political process.

Karen says that they also want to help with issues like the homeless crisis and care for the elderly by getting schools involved and students to volunteer – something that’s already happening, but to roll it out on a larger, more connected scale.

Another big issue that Karen and Daniel feel passionately about is mental health. Although there have been campaigns highlighting the issue and an increased awareness of depression among young men, Daniel says that there’s still a stigma attached to it.

It’s still laughed at and sniggered at sometimes. [If young people get involved] there could be a new idea or way of approaching the issue.

Karen says that this isn’t just something they want to help young people with, but people of all ages; a positive mental health week involving businesses and schools could be one solution.

And that’s only the beginning of their discussions.

‘Our opinions heard’

One of the big projects Wexford County Council will be consulting with the junior council on is the new park proposed for Killeens.

The park is to be named after Min Ryan, a revolutionary who was involved in the 1916 Rising, as her family have donated €200,000 towards developing the park.

Another project where their opinions will be included is the local seafront development in Wexford town. The junior council say they want it developed “in a way that young people are provided for”.

Karen says that she feels there’s a greater need for politicians to reach out to young people so that they understand the political process, both locally and nationally.

“I’ll be eligible to vote next year, and before I joined the council I had no idea how the process worked. I’d love to see politicians come to meet fifth and sixth year students.”

“We want to get involved in the local community, to be heard for a change, because we are the future. Our opinions do need to be taken into account,” says Daniel.

When Karen is asked if she’s interested in becoming a politician in the future, she says that her plan at the moment is to become a primary school teacher.

“…but I’m not going to rule it out,” she adds.

Read: ‘I still have dark days when it’s up and down but I won’t give in to anything, not even depression’ 

Read: ‘We just couldn’t keep up with what the phone could do’ – The trouble of keeping kids safe online

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Gráinne Ní Aodha

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