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Irish President Gives Youth Their Voice

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President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins has given a platform to the youth of his nation, calling for their opinions and hopes to be heard on Ireland's future.

Using the tagline 'Take Charge of Change,' Being Young and Irish is a series of seminars organised by President Higgins whereby people aged between 17 and 26 can have their say on where Ireland is going. While the campaign launched in May to welcome online submissions, workshops have only recently been taking place around the country, launched with over a hundred people taking part in the first workshop in Dublin Institute of Technology.

The President intends to use the findings of Being Young and Irish 2012 to inform his Presidency and later this year will hold a final major seminar in Áras an Uachtaráin - the President's residence in the Phoenix Park, Dublin - where the 'Take Charge of Change' findings will be presented.

At the launch of the Dublin workshop last week, President Higgins reminded participants of the intentions he mentioned during his inauguration in November last year. "I have promised to use my Presidency to open up channels for discussion and debate, on issues that I believe are of importance to all of us now, and into the future."

"Our country, as you've often heard, is at a time of great challenge. But we should affirm to each other that in facing those challenges, we have the ability to transform ourselves and our country."

The themes that came up from the workshops included education, jobs & the economy, immigration, gender equality, improved access for disabled people and community participation, amongst others. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been regularly used during the seminars, encouraging the digital age to get involved.

"There was a lot of talk about equality," remarked Eoin Ó Murchú, one of the young participants. "For example, a lot of people were talking about the right for gay people to get married. There were people about equality for women generally in the future and in politics. The keyword of the day was 'equality.'"

Sinéad Burke was another participant to have similar thoughts, using the phrase 'Equal Éire' in the workshop (as Éire is the Irish for Ireland). She was also inspired by President Higgins' opening address, asking participants "to see themselves as the arrow, and not the target."

"That quote was one of the most memorable for me," said Burke, "as so often, the government or people in power inherit their plans and objectives from the previous generation. This notion of the youth creating our own aims and visions was positively refreshing."

As more submissions are made online, more opinions have been regularly appearing on the Being Young and Irish Facebook page. "Young people in Ireland need to speak up," was one such popular submission, made by a young person based just south of Dublin. "They need to be heard, and not just seen. They need to share their vision of Ireland, to destroy prejudges and cynicism of others around them. We need an examination of our commitment to democracy and equality and re-discover the true meaning of these words without any party political agenda. We need to make Ireland the true republic it never was."

Any young Irish person, whether living in Ireland or abroad, is invited to have their say on the future of Ireland by visiting president.ie/youngandirish. The closing date for submissions is September 29.