Facilities for Young People, Migration and Interculturalism: Presentation by Dáil na nÓg.

I am delighted we are joined by representatives from Dáil na nÓg. If the group does not have a leader, I ask members of the delegation to introduce themselves individually, starting with Mr. Rudi Corcoran, stating where they are from, what school they attend and briefly what they do in Dáil na nÓg.

Mr. Rudi Corcoran

I am from Carlow and I attend Presentation College, Carlow. I am a member of Coiste na dTeachtaí and the migration and interculturalism group.

Ms Jessica Kelch

I am from Dublin and I attend the Mercy secondary school, Goldenbridge. I am also part of the migration and interculturalism group.

Mr. Philip McCarron

I am from Donegal and I attend Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana. I am also on the migration and interculturalism committee.

Mr. James T. Doyle

I am from Fingal in north County Dublin. I am involved with the migration and interculturalism group.

Ms Aoife Finnerty

I am from Mayo and I attend Mount Saint Michael secondary school in Claremorris. I will do my leaving certificate next summer. I am part of Coiste na dTeachtaí. I am also on the facilities group.

The delegation is welcome. An oral presentation will be made, of which committee members have a copy. Who will go through it?

Ms Kelch

I will begin. I take the opportunity to thank the committee for agreeing to meet us as we address issues which are important to young people. We represent Coiste na dTeachtaí and will present the recommendations of Dáil na nÓg for 2006 on migration and interculturalism and facilities for young people. We will give the committee information on our work and what we want done in our call for action.

I will provide the committee with background information on Dáil na nÓg. It began in 2001 and is held annually. It will next be held on 17 February. Each county development board has a Comhairle na nÓg, which is a youth parliament. Approximately 200 delegates represent each Comhairle na nÓg from all counties and cities in Ireland. We are from Coiste na dTeachtaí which is elected to progress the follow-up on Dáil na nÓg 2006. We are responsible for feeding information between national and local levels. Coiste na dTeachtaí comprises 35 members, one democratically elected delegate from each local authority area. We can only work within the mandate of Dáil na nÓg.

Our main focus today is to discuss our findings on migration and interculturalism. If the committee is agreeable we would also like to pose questions because the information we gathered from our research was not concrete and we found it difficult to obtain solid information. We will begin with an update on facilities for young people. I will hand over to Ms Finnerty.

Ms Finnerty

I will give a quick update on our work on facilities for young people. This was selected twice as a topic for Dáil na nÓg. Young people recognise the lack of facilities as a major issue in their lives. Young people would like affordable youth facilities, safe places and transport, Government-funded centres, equal power for young people and adults in designing facilities and a link between motivation and young people's involvement.

Coiste na dTeachtí has much involvement in progressing these facilities for young people. This year we focused on two main themes or problems, the lack of information on facilities for young people and transport to these facilities including the need for an identity card to get student fare. I will give a few points on the problems we have recognised on transport and our statement on the issue, which was overwhelmingly voted for in this year's Dáil na nÓg. Young people would like an increase in the low-cost transport for rural and disabled young people. This was also called for at last year's Dáil na nÓg.

We recognise there are problems in using transport. There is a cost problem, there should be an immediate assessment of current prices and an introduction of reductions for young people as well as more offers at weekends, holidays and evenings. Proof of age was another contentious issue. An ID card for under 18s should be introduced so that there is clarity about who should receive student discounts and service providers do not have to use their own discretion to decide people's age and the rate they should be charged.

We recognise a safety problem. Pick-up and drop-off points, taxi ranks and bus stops should be located as close as possible to youth facilities to minimise the dangers to young people. Young people are afraid of travelling long distances in the dark to reach these places. These areas should be well lit, include seating and be positioned in active areas where there are casual surveillance opportunities. We need a standardised public transport system for young people, clarification of the exact age of a child and the criteria for entitlement to student fares, and a national ID card for young people aged 12 to 18 years while still in full-time secondary education. We need great support to progress changes for young people so that there are safe places and facilities for young people, including transport to and from facilities. Child fares and transport should apply to under 18s. We need a national identity card to prove the age of teenagers.

Mr. Corcoran

I will talk about the proposed website on facilities and activities. The No. 1 statement from Dáil na nÓg 2006 was that young people wanted a website that would inform them of all activities in their local area. This would inform them about alternatives to the usual activities such as sports, for example, concerts, youth clubs, cafés and discos. According to 2006 census figures, 50% of young people have access to the Internet at home and this is set to rise. It makes sense to share information so that everybody knows what is happening in their area and other areas. It would cut down anti-social behaviour by giving people something to do in their areas rather than loitering on the streets,with which adults seem to have a major problem.

We asked the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to agree to our request for a website. He agreed and asked his officials to proceed with the recommendation. We will be involved personally in developing the website and ensuring it is user-friendly for young people. Facilities for teenagers are few and far between. There is little for young people that is not directly related to sport. We are the people who require these services, facilities and opportunities. We are prepared to work hard to get them. We also need the support of the people in power who can make these opportunities realistic.

Mr. McCarron

Two main statements under migration and interculturalism were voted for at Dáil na nÓg 2006. The first was that migrant workers and asylum seekers should be provided with information, education and support on Irish culture, society and customs including English language at points of entry. There was an overwhelming 89% support for this at Dáil na nÓg 2006. The other was that the Government should invest in a positive awareness campaign highlighting different cultures and explaining the different statuses and rights afforded to them in this country. There was also an overwhelming 89% support for this at Dáil na nÓg.

We would like to ask the committee what is being done today to educate and inform people about the changes happening in our society. From our experience we receive information about how life is changing in this country from a human perspective. We would like more information on the status and rights of the new Irish as a means to mutual understanding. We see schools as a key way of informing young people.

In the process of our research we came across the national action plan against racism. This plan says changes to the curriculum are being implemented in a phased basis and that all levels in the education system must be included. The Coiste feels the best way to approach this is to implement curricula specifically based on or related to immigration and interculturalism at primary and secondary level. We would like to find out the progress on the commitments made under that national action plan against racism. We would like to know the possibility of a national awareness campaign aimed directly at both formal and informal education sectors. We would like the know the possibility of introducing a mandatory curriculum on interculturalism.

Mr. Doyle

I will briefly run over education. While we realise this is not strictly related to this committee, it is to give members an insight into what affects young people and allow them to clarify where they can have an impact or provide an opinion on what we should do. We identified that primary education is key to raising awareness on migrants and within the migrant community on Irish customs.

Secondary education is also important. We are all secondary level students and know there is a lack of adequate information for us. The informal youth sector such as youth clubs should also be used to provide this information. Not everybody is in school, for example some people over and under the age of 16 are outside the education system but may be involved in other activities through which awareness could be raised. We would like to see a positive awareness campaign. Through our research we are aware that an anti-racism campaign was run a couple of years ago. We want to see the feasibility of running another one in the sense of a positive awareness campaign about these new cultures.

The Coiste is interested in meeting with the Department of Education and Science. We are meeting the Minister, Deputy Hanafin today, and we want to meet whatever committees and political parties there are because we need more interaction with the body politic. We seek ways to put ourselves out there and to have a good relationship with politicians. We have a special relationship with the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, which we value greatly and through which we get a lot done. We want to talk to people who know about the issues and can help us. We are here not just to make our presentations to committee members but to get information from them and see how we can achieve our aims and what can be done in the future.

Festivals of world culture such as the one run by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council are positive and should be encouraged. As with everything to do with young people, it is all to do with education and information, be it on the age of consent, different cultures or aspects of the country. I thank the committee members for their time and I hope we have opened their minds and that we can have a good discussion.

I thank the witnesses and I appreciate their presentation. We are probably more interested in asking questions of the witnesses rather than the other way around. Perhaps we can have a dialogue.

I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their excellent presentation. They stated that migrant workers should be provided with information, education and support on Irish culture, society and customs including the English language at the points of entry. It is a worthy suggestion and one that should be taken up. We should do everything possible to ensure it happens as it would be beneficial to everybody. The witnesses called for greater dialogue between Dáil na nÓg and representatives of political parties and committees. I do not think they will have any problem achieving that, either with political parties or individuals, and we will assist in any way we can in providing a link.

Identity cards were mentioned. Did witnesses mean identity cards or simply proof of age cards? I have taken up the question of identity cards and age cards for people over 18 who cannot gain admission to discos without them. Do witnesses suggest something similar for people under 18?

Ms Finnerty

There is no card for under 18s in secondary education. We are looking for one that carries proof of age, name and a picture, so that when they are 16 they are not charged adult but student fares.

Senator Cummins is the Fine Gael spokesperson in the Seanad on justice, equality and law reform.

I welcome representatives from Dáil na nÓg. We are pleased to have their input and would be willing to take up some of their suggestions. They raised the civic, social and political education, or civics, programme at second level. How helpful has that been for them and their work with Dáil na nÓg?

There appear to be a number of volunteers to answer that question.

Ms Kelch

The civic, social and political education is inadequate. It is not taken seriously in schools as most hold classes, on average, once a week for 40 minutes, even though it is an examination subject. It is seen as a doss class and most people say if one were to watch the news once a week one would pass the CSPE.

Is that the accepted view of everybody?

Mr. Doyle

Yes. The principle behind CSPE is good as we need to be educated about the way the country works, how Europe works and our rights and responsibilities as citizens. However, as has been said, one class per week is inadequate, though we recognise that the education system is under some strain from so many subjects.

Is that because the delegates want another doss class?

We will all acknowledge that there was a long time when we had no civic education in schools. An examination takes place at junior level but there is a problem with timetables at second level and certain subjects take precedence. I am sorry it has not had a better impact at second level.

Delegates asked about low charges on rural transport for young people. If a young person avails of rural transport does he or she pay the same as an adult?

Mr. Corcoran

I probably look older than I am. I only turned 18 recently but I am usually taken for 20. If I tell a bus driver I am a teenager and ask for a student fare he asks for proof but we have no card to prove it. Bus Éireann only offers a scholar rate if a person wears a uniform going to and from school. Rural transport companies charge adult fares, which is not fair when we have to get a bus two or three times a day.

I welcome the delegation. I assure them they are pushing at an open door on the question of more contact with politicians, political parties and the system because most political parties spend their entire time figuring out how to make contact with young people. We hire researchers for that purpose and are very keen to do it. Mr. Corcoran is 18, though the others may not be. However, political parties regard them all as potential voters, because that is what makes us tick. There is no reluctance on the part of political parties or individual politicians.

I give talks in schools every year on the civics programme. I agree with what has been said about classes. Often, four students at the back have already fallen asleep, while four at the front desperately try to keep their eyes open. Another four at the front are interested but are probably considered the nerds of the class. In that way we have something in common because we were all interested in politics at a very young age as well.

Is the Deputy saying we were all nerds?

It was probably never said to our face. It is very refreshing to meet young people who are interested in politics and who let us know the type of politics in which they are interested. They might not be the same politics in which we are engaged. We spoke this morning about someone who threw a hissy fit. Their problem was in thinking they were very important, instead of concentrating on what was important. We need dialogue with young people to learn what is important. When I go off on a rant about something at home my own children look at me as if I have two heads and ask "Who gives a damn?" However, I give a damn and maybe there is a space for issues of mutual interest.

The Labour Party and I would welcome any involvement with young people and would be happy to deal with the organisation before the committee today on an individual basis because the issues raised are very important. For example, we have all been issued with identity cards recently and there seems to be no problem with them because they are secure and enable a person to be contacted. In most continental countries a person receives a card virtually at birth and it follows them through life. The organisation of their tax and other systems are based on those identity cards.

It is equally important to hear the views on the civics programme. Maybe if it were offered in primary education, in third or fourth class, it would catch the imagination of young people. Younger people are enthusiastic about many things but some of their enthusiasm is lost later. The issues the representatives have raised are vitally important for us so they are pushing at an open door.

I welcome the delegation to the Dáil. I am an independent Deputy but take an opposing view about young people seeing politics as a doss class and not taking it seriously. I base my view on my work with two groups of students in the past week. They had teachers who were interested and professional and the students were motivated, so I had the opposite experience to the witnesses. I made my presentation, answered questions and was hammered on many of the issues mentioned today, including racism and the lack of services for young people. This was fantastic because people were motivated and interested. The key was that there was a quality teacher running the class and the youth group. It is all very well to be dismissive of young people but if they are presented with the right options and projects, they will become interested.

It has been mentioned that 91% of people agree with the statement on the provision of safe places and facilities for young people. Does the number of assaults on young people aged between 14 and 17 years present as an issue for the delegates, as it does for me in my daily work? Many of the assaults are not reported to the Garda. Young people, particularly males, are under pressure and their parents are worried when they go to clubs at night. Do the delegates find this to be an issue in their lives and those of young people?

Mr. Doyle

Regarding political parties, there should be dialogue but we have a special relationship with the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who has special responsibility for children. We seek to advise the Government. Dáil na nÓg is not a consultative body. However, the subsidiaries in county and city councils, Comhairle na nÓg, are. Their main role is to consult such councils but I do not believe they can be of much use to Deputies and Senators.

Teachers need to be motivated regarding civil, social and political education, CSPE, although we cannot comment on them, as it could amount to slander.

Mr. Corcoran

CSPE is a timetabled subject which we believe could be replaced with a class on migration and interculturalism that would involve more active participation. There should be formal training for CSPE teachers. My CSPE teacher received no formal training and it was as though he was merely given the book and asked to teach, since he probably knew how many Senators are in the Seanad and other such information. The vehicle, CSPE, is already in place but is not being used and could be replaced with an active migration and interculturalism class which students would find very interesting. I have many friends from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland and my school caters for many denominations. It would be interesting to study a subject related to other peoples.

Are the delegates suggesting the subject, CSPE, is dull but could be made more exciting and interesting?

Mr. Corcoran

Yes; there is an opportunity to make it more relevant. We need not reinvent the wheel, as an underused class is available in the timetable.

Mr. Doyle

We cannot comment on the crime issue. Dáil na nÓg is an evolving process, while Coiste na dTeachtaí, only a minor fraction of its members are present today, is limited to whatever comes out of Dáil na nÓg. Unfortunately, much as we would love to give our opinions on the matter of assaults on young people, we cannot.

That is very strange.

Mr. Doyle

I can give my personal opinion and we can relax a little.

I ask members to respect the manner in which the delegates are approaching this meeting and refrain from attacking them.

Mr. Corcoran

My personal experience is that one can find trouble on a Thursday or Saturday night. Usually one knows which crowd is troublesome in an area; this is particularly relevant when one is by oneself. This is an important issue for all young people.

Ms Kelch

Deputy McGrath suggested assaults affected boys mostly; I tend to disagree with this. The situation facing girls is equally bad nowadays. For example, I was on a busy commuter bus yesterday with plenty of passengers on board and two girls at the back were roaring and killing each other. There is a fear of such people now; this is a problem because it has been allowed to develop to such an extent. Some years ago older people might have stepped in to stop such a fight but this is no longer the case. One need only look at the crimes, shootings and so on that have become prevalent recently to understand people's fears. People are coming out with knives and other weapons and girls are just as bad as boys. I would be very nervous getting on a bus nowadays.

CSPE is only available at one standard level. If it were available as a higher level subject, students might begin to show a greater interest. Classes include a mixture of people who are interested and motivated, as mentioned by Deputy McGrath, and others who do not care. This has a negative effect on motivated students which could be removed if the subject were available at a higher level or if it continued after the junior certificate as an optional leaving certificate subject. Making a subject optional means interested students will choose to study it.

Like other speakers, I compliment the group. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Child Protection and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, emphasised the views of young people in the survey carried out on his behalf and was anxious that they be considered by the committee. I ask the delegates not to underestimate their powers of influence on policy in these areas.

The document the delegates produced, including the outcomes of the Dáil, was impressive. Statement No. 8 concerned the right in education to promote interculturalism, while the survey found that religion should be changed as a subject in schools to reflect morals, ethics and other cultures. As we become more multicultural as a nation, should we seek to conform and change our traditions for those entering the country, or should we respect their separate traditions, while maintaining our own values and culture? Integration can enhance our values and culture. This is a preferable approach to making condescending changes. This subject brought about the most significant minority disagreement with the proposal.

I refer to statement No. 9 on facilities for young people because people in my home town of New Ross are anxious to have a drop-in centre, on which much progress has been made. I am committed to the concept. What do the delegates see as the benefits of such centres?

Mr. Corcoran

To answer the first point, we believe people coming to Ireland should not be compelled to assimilate Irish culture entirely. As Senator Walsh implied, communities should work side by side. We should accept their views and integrate them with the curriculum without making them assimilate Irish culture and become completely Irish. Equally, there should be mutual respect. A subject such as migration and interculturalism would allow us to examine Polish heritage for four weeks and then examine Irish heritage for four weeks. In this way we could rediscover our heritage, while letting immigrants see our traditions. As a result, everyone would have a good understanding of each other. Education is the only way forward in the eradication of ignorance.

Let me come in on that point because it is something that interests me. I always believed religion should be taught as a subject, although which religion one chooses and how it is taught should be a decision for an individual and his or her family to make. Neither I nor anyone else holds all the answers, it is an evolving thing. The first thing we should teach people who come into the country is the law and how it is applied here.

Mr. Corcoran

That is similar to what happens in Turkey. That country permits one to practise any religion as long as it does not break the laws of the state.

This practice is also widespread on the Continent in places like Denmark and Holland. Immigrants must learn what is permitted under the constitution and the laws of the land. One must also take an oath to uphold the laws of the land. While we do not do that formally in this country, it is expected of us.

The integration of cultures is an entirely separate matter. I would be terribly worried that we would get this mixed up as it evolves. We have discussed culture, religion and the law, whereas I see them as separate. Once one abides by the laws as applied in this country, one is fine. Of course, there are also social mores that must be abided by. We no longer turn the key in someone's door and walk into their home.

Those are the sort of things we need to learn about one another. I recently observed a multicultural project in Cork which included people from Kenya, the Congo, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, etc. While European cultures were quite similar, African cultures are quite different. Someone asked a question about the disciplining of children. One could have sworn that the roof had fallen in. A Kenyan woman said Kenyans feel they must take responsibility for all children, while an Irish woman said she would not be happy to have her child disciplined by someone else.

The other question which drew divergent views related to when children can be considered to have become adults. In sub-Saharan African countries this happens quite early and it almost has a ritualistic element to it, whereas it is done by law in Ireland when one turns 18. As a mother, I know that 18 is merely a technical coming of adulthood and it does not happen in practice until one turns 30.

The multiculturalism debate is interesting, and I am glad to see that today's representatives are interested in it too.

We have initiated interaction between Dáil na nÓg and this committee. Please do not hesitate to contact us by e-mail and interact with Members at any time. We would be delighted to hear from Dáil na nÓg and associate with its activities.

Ms Kelch is a constituent of mine and I am keen that she should know the work of this committee. I understand the witnesses will undertake a tour of the House and will dine in the Members' restaurant. I hope they enjoy the rest of the day.

The joint committee went into private session at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned at 1.05 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 January 2007.