Youth Advisory Panel members attend Áras an Uachtaráin
In his Inauguration Address, President Michael D. Higgins said that he intended to hold a number of Presidential Seminars which would reflect and explore themes that were important to the shared life of the Irish people. The first of these Seminars will focus on the theme of “Being Young and Irish”. As part of planning the event, last week the President invited a group of 30 young people aged 17 – 26 to attend a forum to hear and take on board young people’s views and ideas. Two members of our Youth Advisory Panel were invited to attend Saturday’s forum and here Tim gives an account of his day. It was Friday, and I was standing in the Social Welfare Office trying to get a claim sorted. Outside was a properly textbook bright April day, wind buffeting up and down Tara Street – proper cloud-chasing gusts, pale light, all the Spring stuff that really is the absolute business when you think about it. I was only dying to be out there instead of stuck indoors breathing in grey light that felt like a headache.
This country’s a funny place. Even at the dullest of moments there’s still the possibility of something new and freshening. Because, you see, this is probably the only country on earth where you can be in at the Social Welfare Office one day and then, the next day, talking about the experience at a consultation group with the Office of the President.
President Higgins wants a real republic. To this end he has identified a number of key themes for discussion in his promised Presidential Seminars. The topics are intended to centre on themes which extend beyond the legislative and into the very marrow of civic society. It’s an opportunity for active citizenship of the most useful kind, and the thirty young people invited to Saturday’s consultation group really leapt at the chance.
I was proud to have been included in their number, and I left feeling invigorated by new connections, proper conversation, and a real charge of energy. The idea was to air concerns pertinent both to us and to President Higgins so as to shape the first Presidential Seminar on this theme. It was a productive day, full of frank and clear discussions. I hope the format of the Presidential Seminars to come will have the same atmosphere. The facilitators were just as eager to get the most out of the occasion, and I'm grateful to all four, among them our own Youth Engagement Officer James Barry.
A confident society is a society that pulls itself up by its bootstraps. For that to happen we need debate and conversation to find the right channels.
It is telling that President Higgins has chosen the theme of Being Young and Irish for the first of his seminars. Saturday’s consultation was alive with an energy and vigour vital to the working of any civic society. I can only hope that there will be more of this, so that the clear, articulate and above all passionate voice of Ireland's young people can be heard and valued.
This republic is about to mark a number of significant anniversaries. What better way to mark it than with free, unfiltered discussion on what future generations have to offer?
The Office of the President is the highest in the land, but I don’t think any of us voted for someone we want to vanish from view after inauguration. I’m hopeful that the first of these seminars will befit a presidency of public engagement, social renewal and transformation. There was a cohesion, passion and diversity to the group assembled on Saturday that I don't want to see lost.
Tim Smyth, Youth Advisory Panel Member