This blog has been written by Ethan McLaughlin, sharing his experiences at the "We need to talk about Europe" conference.
My time at the be counted campaign launch
Over the 29th of November to the 1st of December I attended the conference run by the Public and Achievement with the title “We need to talk about Europe” in the Waterfront hotel in Belfast. The primary aim of the conference was to discuss, how to get young people interesting and engaged in the 2014 European Parliamentary election. The more board point to the conference was to discuss the best way, to reengage young people into the Political system. I was attending independently but there was delegates from the Scottish youth parliament, Cardiff youth council and the SHM Political academy which is a new organisation based primarily in London but expanding. Within our conference pack, we were given documents detailing how the EU works, this was to help give us some details about how the thing we were talking about actually worked. We began the conference with a presentation by a representative of the commission’s office in Northern Ireland Collete Fitzgerald. She talked the role EU funding has had in Northern Ireland to begin with. We than went to a question and answer session, where us attending where able to really quiz her on as wide a range of topics, like the future of Europe in terms of how we identify with it, to why people feel a disconnect when they talk about Europe.
After short coffee break we went to a panel discussion again focusing, on the same topic about why people have a lack of understanding of Europe.
The next panel discussion was Jim Nicolson, the longest severing MEP in the house, Stephen Ferry employment minster in Northern Ireland and a volunteer coach for the organisation WIMPS called Shannon. The main aim of the panel was to talk the best ways, to get the message out about how to inform people about Europe. Making people aware about the benefits of Europe. After a 2 course lunch, which for a first year university student was greatly appreciated we had a presentation by Bernice Sweeney from the European youth council. She gave us a full and very detailed presentation about the youth programme from Europe, youth in action going into Erasmus + in 2014. After that each of organisations gave a presentation about what they do in their area. It may be a surprise the Scottish youth parliament gave the longest presentation. In the afternoon we then had a detailed debate about what Europe means to us. It was very lively, where peoples political affiliations really came to light. After that we went and had a 3 course dinner and talked through the day, in the evening after the meal we gathered in the hotel bar and had some local musicians play for us. It was a good chance for us to mix.
The Saturday was mainly focused on getting us involved in the debate, about how to get people interested and engaged in politics in general. Just before that started we had a panel debate with Basil McCrea MLA (NI21), Dolores Kelly MLA (SDLP) and Mark Brotherton (NI Conservatives) and Micky Murray from WIMPs. The discussion focused on why young people should vote. It was very interesting, and got quite intense towards the end as Dolores called Basil out for his stance on immigration. Again the right wing delegates got their opinions heard; Basil applauded them for having the never to say what they feel. The panels for which we chaired was how to engage the disengage, how to use education, and where the be counted campaign should go In the future. The discussion where ranging from a complete overall of the education system, to how young people need to be reminded of how politics relates to the issues that affect them. Just to mention the 2 UKIP members where catching up on the daily mail. After the final panel we had an hour to kill, before we headed off to Belfast city council. Gave me a chance to catch up on some work. A coach came to pick us up, before we had our 3 course meal we had a wine reception paid for by the council. Once went into the main hall their where a few speeches, talking about the importance of building on this conference. This should be seen as the start, the UKIP members where applauded for continuing to speak their views despite being in the minority all weekend. After the meals and a performance by different drums, a group which brought together different musical style from marching bands of both the protestant and Catholic side. After that people started to hit the dance floor, that was where people if they hadn’t during the conference really went all out. It finished around 1 oclock.
Waking up the following morning, just in time to catch my last hotel breakfast for a while, it gave me a chance to really think through what a great experience this has been. Being around all these young active and motivated individuals, it reminded me that maybe this can be the time with these people taking the led, that youth interest may start to improve and change.