Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Monday, 17 May 2021

Vol. 276 No. 3

Young People: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

acknowledges that:

- Ireland recognises the contribution young people make to our society, including working and volunteering in their communities and through their advocacy on national and global issues;

- the Thirty-first Amendment of the Constitution enshrined the rights of the child in Irish law;

- the establishment of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth was the express provision by Government to ensure the vindication of those rights;

- the youth of our country have been stoic in the face of considerable challenges to their quality of life and opportunity throughout this pandemic;

- youth can be often portrayed negatively; we strongly reject this unfair characterisation of young people, and instead commend young people as they navigate the unique challenges they experience, for instance, they have:

- not been able to avail of the full student experience either in second or third level education;

- not been able to meet in each other’s homes;

- been denied their usual rites of passage, have not been able to engage in youth and sports activities, they have no social outlet;

- young people have been disproportionately impacted in their ability to work and earn their own money, and consequently disadvantaged in their own agency during this pandemic;

notes that:

- year on year since the establishment of the Department it has received increased funding; we welcome the increase of €5 million in funding for youth services in Budget 2021, bringing the annual investment to €70 million in funding for youth services nationwide, to benefit youth organisations and their work supporting young people throughout the country;

- the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has taken extremely positive actions in the support of third level students including the welcome introduction of a €15 million fund to assist third level students access technology including laptops and devices, the doubling of the Student Assistance Fund; the €5 million increased funding for mental health support; the SUSI rebate and the provisions for Traveller students at risk of dropping out of third level education;

- that the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science established a new group, chaired by the USI, to examine how we can improve student well-being at this time;

calls on the Government to:

- recognise the unique challenges affecting our country’s youth;

- recognises the impact of this pandemic on our youth at all education levels;

- create channels of engagement, traditional or otherwise, to ensure that the voice of young people and their needs are respected and heard;

- take action in accordance with their needs, as expressed by them.

My motivation in bringing this motion forward was the repeated press reports last November about young people and all they were doing wrong in the midst of Covid, the complaints about breaches of Covid restrictions and the photos and videos circulating that were all castigating young people and their behaviours. To be young is quite a challenge. Young people are ever thought of in terms of what they will give to society when they are older and I have a real problem with this. They are considered intimidating if they gather in groups but this is just because they do not have anywhere else or a designated place to meet. They are loud and cause fear just by being young and exuberant. This age group has handled challenges never before experienced. Even outside of Covid they cope in a cyber age. They have to figure out social interaction, appropriateness, consent and what is real and what is not in an online environment where reality is frequently distorted and engagement can be twisted and disseminated even before any right of reply.

While these young people coming up are better educated than any generation before them they still face unprecedented challenges. Those in their 20s have now lived through two dramatic economic shocks and all of the consequences that flow from this. The funding of mental health and recovery programmes is very timely and important as the youth generation is the generation that has had the rug pulled out from under it quite literally.

Despite all of the judgment and narrative surrounding them, young people make huge contributions in the here and now. In their youth they enrich our society. Their views are significant and their perspectives are challenging and refreshing. The optimism of youth is a resource to be harnessed by leaders. The purity of their perspective, which is not tarnished by disappointment and life experience, should be a shining light and it is important that their voices are heard, their perspectives are considered and their views impact.

Childhood, youth and old age are finite periods in our lives when a lot of change can happen in a very short space of time. For the very young, throughout Covid the milestones of development have passed without being shared. Children have taken their first steps without the presence of grandparents. Holy communions and confirmations have been cancelled, or if they proceeded they did so without the pomp and significance that every child deserves on such an occasion. Birthday parties did not happen and some children, like my own child, spent months at a time without playing with any other child. Young people have had their junior certificate cancelled, and while this might have been a cause for celebration, and it certainly would have been for me in my day, that rite of passage was missed and the maturity of the experience of the exam is now a confidence deficit that must be addressed.

In the initial days of the lockdown, youth work programmes were cancelled as the country got to grips with what it meant to be in a pandemic. Youth work staff have not received the absolute credit they deserve for all they did in the past year. Projects such as the St. John Bosco Youth Centre youth work programme in Dublin immediately pivoted from engaging with large numbers of participants to having to go to zero face-to-face contact and interaction that was only online or by video and phone contact. It published a fantastic document on the nine months of the pandemic last year and all it did and achieved with young people during that time. It created and developed online programmes. It distributed art packs. It had anti-racism initiatives. It held an online cafe and a video blog chat, Bosco Inspires, which involved interviewing various guests relevant to young people. When the lockdown eased it painted murals depicting the country's front-line services. It painted "We are Drimnagh" as a representation of the community of Drimnagh and what aspects were relevant to them. The same creativity and engagement was demonstrated in many organisations that engage youth, such as the GAA and the Irish Girl Guides, which got involved in an extraordinary level of volunteerism making their communities better places.

One of the strategic goals of the Minister is to help those who are vulnerable, including children, young people and at-risk individuals, to overcome adverse circumstances and achieve their full potential. Last year's budget for the Department was an unprecedented investment and I call on him to ensure it is maintained this year and, if possible, increased.

As for the school leavers of the past year, they travelled an emotional roller-coaster with the leaving certificate. They missed their debs and their holidays. They were not able to travel abroad to work. For those who did get into college, the first year was nothing of the uplifting liberating experience it should have been.

I acknowledge that significant investment has gone into ameliorating the awfulness of last year for them, and that continues. I set that out in the wording of the motion. Recent figures show that when the PUP is excluded youth unemployment stands at 15%, up 4% from the pre-Covid seasonally adjusted average of 11%. I appreciate that moves to address this are already in place or will shortly be announced and that the Department has been involved in those measures. The capacity of the Intreo centres has been expanded, there are an extra 100 job coaches, the JobsPlus subsidy for employers to hire young people has been increased, and an employer can get €7,500 for employing a young person who has been unemployed for more than four months. Employers are incentivised to employ young people.

I appreciate the apprenticeship schemes, the back to education and back to work allowances and the soon to be finalised pathways to work strategy for 2021 to 2025, which will be published by the Department of Social Protection. These initiatives reflect a whole-of-government strategy that will build on the support measures already in place to assist young people in their journey to work. Other measures that would help young people include addressing the sudden rise in insurance for international students, ensuring quick pathways to driving tests for young people who are anxious to get on the roads and hastening all of the initiatives the Government has planned.

I have asked the Minister to create a pathway to engage with young people. It needs to be interdepartmental to ensure the response is assured across Departments. We need to establish a youth collaborative forum, similar to the effective forums established in many other areas of the Department, to hear the unique challenges of young people and enable them to suggest, request and influence the Government's output in accordance with all that is ambitiously set out in the programme for Government and by the Department.

I second the motion.

I welcome the Minister and thank Senator Seery Kearney for her work on this matter and the passion that she always brings. The motion acknowledges the contribution of young people through volunteering and advocacy, and the way in which they have built reserves of resilience that inspire us in the face of this pandemic over the past year.

During the year, I thought about how I would have felt facing a pandemic in lockdown if I was a teenager or in my 20s. I remember the period of transition from school to college where I met lifelong friends and had opportunities to travel. For those learning languages, as I was, we got to travel and work in countries such as France and Spain. We must acknowledge that much of that was lost by many young people in the past year. The college years are a great period in life when we makes discoveries, learn and get opportunities to meet new people and have new experiences. They shape us.

Young people have given us hope this year and have been great examples of resilience. They changed their behaviours to protect their parents, grandparents and loved ones. In my area of Ballinasloe, many young players' clubs became involved in the community call through the county councils, particularly in Galway and Roscommon.

If we think back to the first few dreadful months of the pandemic starting in February last year, there was so much fear and our knowledge of the pandemic was very limited. Despite this, young people brought hope to older people, delivering medicines from pharmacies and groceries and newspapers. That effort was replicated in all the counties. All of these clubs and young people stepped up.

As Fine Gael spokesperson on education, further and higher education, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. I am also a member of the Joint Sub-Committee on Mental Health. The committees have heard in recent months about the impact of Covid-19 and the lockdown on young people, especially when schools were closed. The sacrifices during lockdown were to save lives but they also allowed the Government to prioritise the reopening of schools. Children and young people came first and were a priority of the Government. While we used technology to facilitate remote learning, the closure of schools impacted on developmental and social skills. In the time ahead, post-primary schools will work well to ensure well-being and inclusivity for all students.

The education committee also discussed bullying and the impacts on young people of cyberbullying and online harassment, especially at post-primary level.

I know that legislation has been introduced by the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, which is looking at online harassment and supporting young people who go through difficult times online, especially in respect of the sharing of images.

In terms of exams, I know that the accredited grades system has reduced stress and anxiety for students by offering choice and the option of being awarded an accredited grade or sitting an exam.

However, as has been mentioned, the traditional college experience is also very different. At third level, the Minister, Deputy Harris, has increased the number of places available through the apprenticeship programme, whereby people can earn and learn and go from diploma to PhD level. The numbers on this programme have grown from 6,000 to 10,000. There are a further 2,200 college places available. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has also initiated a consultation on the SUSI programme on how to reform the support and increase the number of people and students who are eligible for the programme.

Now, more than ever, there is such a choice for school leavers at age 17 or 18. As Senator Seery Kearney has noted, Ireland included young people in the PUP support. That support was extended. When seasonal adjustments are made, it does make a difference in terms of the figures. We know that there is a large number of students who are currently in receipt of the PUP support. I will stop there.

The Senator can have a few more seconds.

I will say more later.

If the Senator is sure. I call Senator Currie.

Apologies for cutting the Senator short. I wish to commend my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, on putting forward this motion, and on her hard work and commitment in this area and her empathy for young people. I feel it too. I feel it for my own children who are now aged six and eight. There is a massive about of mother's guilt for when we were both working full-time and they were knocking around the house by themselves. They have grown up in many ways over the past year, but in other ways they have also remained very innocent. It has been a really hard year for them.

Not every kid that hangs around a street corner is a hooligan. I fear that we are heading in that direction at the moment because of a lack of things to do for young people. I was one of those kids that hung around the street corner when I had nothing to do and I do not think I turned into a hooligan. However, we must find a way to safeguard and protect them from antisocial behaviour, both getting into it and being victims of it, and ensuring they enjoy their summer. We must also have policing where necessary, too. I welcome the youth justice strategy that was announced. It has gone down very well locally.

I wrote to the Minister's Department last week. We do need a plan for the summer holidays for our youth. The Minister invested in a capital fund in August 2020 to the tune of €2 million to prepare the likes of Foróige to work online and to support youth services. Foróige did an incredible job and brought everything online and still managed to help vulnerable children. Now we need to see additional funding for this summer. At the moment, the youth clubs are working with groups of 15 young people outside, and they are hanging around in places like car parks. We could invest in universal services and also in premises for this summer. I wonder if places like Blanchardstown Shopping Centre would be a good places for kids to meet when the schools shut.

The year 2021 will see funding of €67 million, which is an increase of 8%, but some areas are still falling behind in universal services. I know the Minister is aware this is the case in areas like Ongar, Tyrrelstown and Carpenterstown. I am helping Foróige to set up a youth club in Luttrellstown at the moment, but that is using funds that are being diverted from elsewhere. Therefore, it would be great to see more universal services.

I particularly want to acknowledge the parents of children who go to special schools and note how much I regret that we could not open the schools sooner for them. I sincerely hope the July provision programme will deliver. Central to that is that schools that have not opened under July provision will open this year. That is something we will have to watch.

One of the areas we absolutely have to deliver on concerns disability services and our child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. The problem was acute before Covid, but now they are seeing numbers on the ground that they have never experienced before. Psychologist staffing levels are a major issue, and yet there are obvious barriers to getting them on the front line. One of them is the inequitable funding for trainee doctorates. For example, if you study as a clinical psychologist at doctorate level, you will be paid a salary of €33,000 for the placement and will receive 60% of your funding, whereas if you go down the route of counselling and education, you pay €15,000 per year for three years and you do not get paid for the work placement.

They put hundreds of hours into their placements. That is also on the back of approximately ten years of studying. We are putting their welfare behind that of everybody else. A healthy system would actually look after everyone. That is just one of the barriers.

There are not enough doctoral places. We must look at the role of assistant psychologists and make sure they are funded. We have to look at the new therapy posts, of which there were 100 in 2020 and 100 in 2021. How many of them are child psychologists? There are others but that is just at the tip of the iceberg for how we can look at the entire system in giving children access to educational psychologists.

I move amendment No. 2:

To insert the following paragraph after “calls on the Government to:”

“- actively pursue the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Ombudsman for Children’s Annual Report 2019, as well as those of the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card 2021, and to lay a report before Seanad Éireann on such implementation no later than 1st October, 2021;”

I welcome the Minister to the House. I also thank the Fine Gael Members, led by Senator Seery Kearney, for using their time for this Private Members' business. It is a really important focus. One of the great things about Private Members' business is that it gives us an opportunity to make public comment.

The practice here in recent times has been that very few Private Members' amendments by the Opposition have been accepted, which is a disappointment. I want to focus on that for one second. It is a disappointment in a democracy and in a parliament. The Minister will remember and be aware of his colleagues who sat in opposition for a few years and were blocked out. It is not good for democracy for the Government to say in a blanket manner that it is not supporting amendments before it has even seen them or heard the debate.

We know that the Government is not going to accept the amendments today, which is disappointing when we have not even spoken. It really is disappointing. The reason and rationale behind that, of course, is that the Cabinet did not meet and, therefore, cannot approve them. I must accept that. I have no choice but to accept it. If I were Minister with responsibility for youth affairs, however, I would find it very difficult not to accept some very key recommendations.

I wish to start by strongly thanking the Ombudsman for Children's office and the Children's Rights Alliance, two amazing organisations that have a track record and publish annual reports, which I will quote to the Minister in a few minutes. I could not really argue with them. I am not the expert on children. We were all children once and we must listen.

What message, therefore, are we sending out to the children's ombudsman today? I notified both offices today about these amendments. I notified a number of stakeholders in this area who are advocates of childcare. I told them to watch what is going to happen today. People have been coming into our audiovisual room, talking to politicians and Ministers, bringing wonderful reports about recommendations on the safe protection of our children and supporting LGBT youth and people with difficulties, which is in this book I will mention in a minute. It is very disconcerting and disappointing.

I fully acknowledge the Minister's track record, however. I am not questioning him or his commitment in this area. He is part of a bigger team and he must play his part on that team. I fully respect that and wish to say so before I start.

First, I thank the ombudsman's office. I formally move amendment No. 1 and I will speak to amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4. Basically, I believe the ombudsman's report has done an amazing thing. Our amendments seek two simple things. We ask that the Bill addresses the urgent matter of the waiting list of more than 2,500 people for child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. The Minister will be aware of the work done by former Senator Joan Freeman on CAMHS and mental health services.

I looked back on Commencement matters with regard to members of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil who spoke about the difficulties of mental health services in recent months. I spoke to many of them and shared their concerns. We must, therefore, be consistent about our messages and our role as advocates in terms of mental health for our young people. That is an important point. I ask people to look back on the record of this House with regard to where they stood then and where they will stand later today. That is really important. We also need to address other issue such as poverty, etc.

I am going to go straight to the report because it really deals with and highlights a few issues. Roughly, we are talking about the right to education, educational disadvantage, religious diversity in our schools and the challenges around it, and disability and additional needs for our young people, particularly in education. The Children's Rights Alliance outlines the difficulties and sets out its concerns.

We then move on to the rights of adequate standards of living for children and young people, and family homelessness. We speak about parental leave and income supports to sustain and safeguard our young people.

Challenges are set out in this report card. We talk about the right to healthcare including primary healthcare and mental healthcare, and the importance of physical and mental health. These organisations are making a call on the Government and I do not know what has gone wrong in the messaging here. Reference is made to the right to family, environment and alternative care. What we call "family" is very different for different people. The concept of family is broad, wide and inclusive, as it should be and we need to be there to support all of that. Also important is the right to early childhood supports and assessments.

Covid has taught me that while there are lots of shortcomings with regard to the way we deal with older people, there are lots of young people, aged 14 to 17, who have nowhere to go. There are no basketball courts, no multi-use games areas for them; there is nothing. Sadly, some of them are involved in drinking and anti-social behaviour. They are the ones, according to my local superintendent, who are the most challenging in the context of anti-social behaviour in our communities. They feel forgotten and isolated and are bordering on confrontational towards the establishment because they feel they are not being supported or listened to and that is a valid concern for them.

The right to equality is so important. What about our Traveller and Roma children and youth? What are we doing for them? There are particular challenges there and two organisations in particular are well represented. What about our refugees and asylum-seeking young people who are trapped in all of that, and the places they have to call home? What about LGBTI+ children and young people who are struggling to be accepted and supported in their schools, communities and dare I say it, their families.

The amendments we have put forward are reasonable. I accept what the Minister said about Cabinet proposals but I do not think we can park these issues for too long. We should support young people. We must find a vehicle for dealing with these issues comprehensively. We must support young people and put the necessary legislation in place. I genuinely thank Fine Gael Senators for enabling us to have this debate, which is positive. Sometimes we can get frustrated and I, for one, am particularly prone to getting frustrated but I did not want to do that today. I came in here today and said to myself that I would not get angry because anger gets us nowhere. I ask Senators to keep the issues I have raised today at the top of our political agenda.

I second Senator Boyhan's amendment.

The Minister is very welcome. I thank our Fine Gael colleagues, and Senator Seery Kearney in particular, for bringing this very considerate and important Private Members' motion to the House. I very much welcome this debate today which addresses how young people have suffered as a result of Covid-19 in the context of social isolation, education, employment and housing. In truth, any cohort in our society which relies on others for the fulfilment of their life has been badly affected. This includes our older people, young people, carers, people with disabilities and those with a health condition that makes them vulnerable. These are the people, our family members and members of our community, who have been affected most by Covid-19. One of the lessons we must learn from this pandemic is how to ensure that those who are most vulnerable are not disproportionately affected should another pandemic occur, which we hope will not happen.

Today's debate is about children and young people and it is up to us in this House to find answers. How do we create a world that they deserve? They deserve everything but they have not got everything during this pandemic. We see the same pre-pandemic problems arising again; they are starting to creep back into the news. We hear about homeless children, people with disabilities not getting access to care and young people engaging in anti-social behaviour. The latter is a symptom of the problem of disengagement and it is up to all of us to address it. I welcome Senator Boyhan's contribution and agree that it is about all of us working together.

It might be a bit twee to say it, but children are our future. If we do not look after them now, then who will take over from us? We are all shaped and affected by our life experiences. It is up to us as adults, parents, aunts, uncles, and as legislators, to do our best in advocating for our children, to make them strong and confident and resilient, to ensure that every child has a dream, and that they can do what they want with that dream. I have been incredibly lucky to live in a country that has allowed me to dream, to know there was a big world out there beyond the Cooley Mountains, and to know that if I wanted to do something I could get there. The State helped me to achieve it. It gave me a good education and I scraped myself into university. I got the grant. I was able to move on. I got supported in college. Only for it, I would not be here today. The State created an environment for me and I am so grateful for that. I am one of the lucky ones, however. There are many people in our country, especially children and younger people, who do not see that this opportunity is there for them. It is for us now to make visible those opportunities for young people and children.

We have all been affected by the pandemic, including our children. Parents have been working from home and home-schooling children. It was an incredible struggle. Families really suffered. Consider the parent or two parents working who had a couple of children. It nearly broke us. It was very hard. Our family had to row back from our home schooling because everything was given and we felt as a family that we were achieving nothing. All we could do was to step back from the home schooling and give love and time. There may have been less reading and writing done, but there was a little bit more sitting and cuddling done. That helped us but not every family was able to do that.

We must applaud those families for how they struggled through and achieved. Some families, however, did not. It is up to us now to look at how we can support families to get through the next period. There are an awful lot of families who have been locked down in abuse. It is no offence to fathers, but it is usually the single mothers who need the support. I am aware that a lot of this debate is cross-departmental. We hope the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, will report back to his Cabinet colleagues. A lot of supports are needed, from mental health supports to creating an environment where a mother can get herself educated. It can break that cycle. When children see their mother achieving in education and moving forward, that she has the confidence in herself, this confidence is passed on to her children. I see so often how this is the link and the cycle to break: to make sure we look after the mother and the father, to give them the opportunities, and the opportunities will then be given to the families.

There are so many activities for young people but a lot of those activities cost a lot of money. Similar to the back-to-school initiative, there should be a grant to allow lower wage families to be able to afford the GAA, gymnastics, ballet and all of those things, which can cost a lot of money. This is how to get children engaged in their communities and to get them involved and part of it. It really opens up a door.

We should also have a national paid internship programme that looks after all of our children. We could pull them in from across all parts of society, from those young people with a disability to the LGBTQ young people, and positively discriminate to get young people working in our State organisations.

A huge number of children are waiting on the basic child developmental checks. We need to look after the mental health supports. We need to look after those disaffected youth. Anti-social behaviour is just a symptom of the problem, the youth are not the problem.

I thank Fine Gael for tabling this Private Members' motion. As a person who talks a lot about young people, and especially about students, I am always eager to talk about them and what we can do to improve things. The motion refers to the contribution that young people make to our society.

I want to talk about young carers. In December, I referred to the fact that it is estimated that there are approximately 67,000 young carers in Ireland - an enormous number. This is according to a report published by the National University of Ireland Galway in conjunction with Young Carers Ireland. Some of the responses showed that young carers face issues with emotional health and well-being and lower life satisfaction than their peers. One third of young carers reported having been bullied in school. One of the most tragic findings of the research was that one in four young carers was going to school or bed hungry because there was not enough food at home. No child should go to bed hungry in a wealthy country such as Ireland and nobody should have to take on a caring role before he or she becomes an adult. In Ireland, we do not dedicate enough resources to carers in general, in the form of home help hours or respite provision, and the report highlights how lacking we are in the context of care supports. It is estimated that 13.3% of young people are undertaking caring roles, which is a huge proportion. I hope we remember that and that the Minister will consider what he and his team can do to better provide for the emotional, physical and material needs of young carers. I thought I would raise that issue while we are speaking to the contribution that young people make.

The motion refers to the student experience. As my party's spokesperson on further and higher education, I take the student experience very seriously. I am sure all of us have heard reports of students and young people being at home on their own, completely isolated. They may have not made any friends in first year. In my first year of college, it was difficult enough to make friends in person, so I can only imagine how extraordinarily difficult it is now. Many young people have considerable anxiety about going onto campus in September to be with people they have never really met and with whom they have only really chit-chatted online. That is causing a very significant level of anxiety and I am sure we all know someone who has experienced that.

As we are talking about the welcome role that education plays and, as other Senators have noted, the impact that being able to access education has, it would be remiss of me not to mention who is not progressing to further and higher education, or even those who are not finishing school. There is great concern this year, according to the teachers to whom I have spoken, regarding the students they would normally be able to capture and get through their education post junior certificate and into the leaving certificate, somehow someway. Those students have been lost this year and we need to think about what we are going to do in that regard. We do not want students just to disappear from the system for ever more and to fall between a number of stools. We need to think about students who have been lost in the interim, particularly between junior certificate and leaving certificate and those who will not have completed school, for whatever reasons, and what additional supports will be provided for them for the coming years.

The motion also mentions the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on young people and their ability to work and earn their own money. As I noted on the Order of Business, a number of families and students applying for SUSI this year have, due to accepting the PUP, been deemed to be above the thresholds. No one should be punished for having received the PUP over the past year. I highlighted last year that this would be a problem in the coming year and asked whether we could do something about it, but nothing has been done. I ask the Minister to raise with his Cabinet colleagues and Senator Seery Kearney to raise with her party colleagues the fact that it is not good enough that people will potentially miss out on continuing their education because they were paid the PUP. I do not know whether it will have to be regarded in same way as the threshold of €4,500 for holiday earnings but there should be a workaround. Thus far, the answer is to get people to apply with reference to exceptional circumstances but I am not sure that is the best response.

The final issue I raise relates to youth unemployment. There was previously a youth guarantee and I hope there will be a European-wide response to youth unemployment. There is an extraordinarily high level of youth unemployment in Ireland at the moment. If we are considering a youth guarantee in the context of how we deal with jobs and training, it is important that it be more than a conveyor belt for getting young people into just any job.

It needs to be a job that is meaningful and provides for growth and opportunity. I dare say that pushing someone into a job that is not the right one is almost as bad as leaving him or her without anything at all because it has such an impact on his or her sense of well-being, confidence and potential.

This motion is very welcome. We support the amendments, particularly that relating to lowering the voting age to 16. We are very supportive of that. There is mention of ensuring the voice of young people and their needs are respected and heard. I commend the Irish Second–Level Students' Union, ISSU, and my alma mater, the Union of Students in Ireland, for the incredibly hard work they have been doing over the past year to ensure that the voices of young people are heard.

I thank the Fine Gael Senators, particularly Senator Seery Kearney, for their work on this and welcome the Minister. Young people have had a particularly difficult couple of years. The fact that we are talking about this today shows that we value them and acknowledge that difficult period and that we must make moves to ensure it does not have a negative impact on their lives. One thing about which I am particularly passionate is youth participation. Since the children's right referendum in 2012, we have seen a stepping up in this area and the idea of "nothing about me without me" has entered policy across the Department and Tusla. I have been on the receiving end of it as a family. Sometimes it can be very ad hoc and almost like "youthwashing" so we need to examine this area, particularly when we have seen young people stepping up during this pandemic like never before and really having their voices heard. Senator Hoey mentioned the ISSU. Young people have gone to places we never expected them to go, have led the charge and have almost designed this leaving certificate themselves. It was what they were asking for and they got it. Policy and how we act with regard to youth participation need to bring them into the middle of it and I would love to see some work from the Department in this regard. I am sure there is work being done in that regard.

There have been so many small and large announcements from the Department that it is almost too much and overwhelming. Even the LGBTI+ capacity grants scheme, which is going towards young people and their families, is one part of that. It is important that all these little pieces go to individual groups of people because young people have had a hard time but the most vulnerable are the ones who are the most deeply impacted upon. The Minister has this in mind all the time.

We really need to look at whether education is matching up to some of the activities within the Department. It is not the fault of the education system but it does mean that we need to step beyond that and have relationships and sexuality education, RSE, that is the same across the country instead of it being a postcode or school lottery. There has been a lot of talk about Flourish. I want to see RSE that respects everybody - their sexuality and their families. This is what the Government can do. I have spoken a lot about voting at 16. The programme for Government contains a commitment to look at a reduction in the voting age so let us do it.

I thank the Minister for attending. He is a busy man with a lot going on. I have worked with young people for approximately 25 years and I have a 22-year-old son. What I keep coming across is young people's passion for everything and anything. I am struck by the diversity of young people and all the different things they bring to the table. I started visiting a couple of schools recently. Sometimes they are so refreshing compared to the adults because they have a can-do attitude. They do not see the obstacles. They think "Why can't you just do this?" It is really refreshing to see that they focus on solutions. It is great to remind ourselves that we must keep looking for solutions.

To that end, I would point to a few matters that have struck me about secondary school environments. It is unfair that practical subjects are not taught in every school. That means the academics only get to use one part of their brain and miss out on practical stuff, and people who are not as academic do not have the opportunity to do well.

My nephew is doing his leaving certificate. He is a very clever guy. He will have four or five of his subjects almost half done before he sits down. I remember when I was doing my leaving certificate the fact that I had five years' work to be tested in three hours was nerve-racking for the entirety of my secondary school existence. We need to examine that area. The leaving certificate examination programme does not fit anybody, even if the authorities think it suits the academics. Just because one gets six A1s does not mean one is a happy camper and enjoyed one's time in secondary school.

The issue of apprenticeships is major. They should not start in January. It is as though there is a stigma attached to them. Those taking up an apprentice find that they finish school and all their mates have gone to college but they have to wait around and go on the dole until January. It is major issue that applicants must be in receipt of social welfare for a good six months before they can take up an apprenticeship. We need to examine that.

I met a women with a good project called Elder Home Share when I got to the finals of a social entrepreneurs workshop. She matched young people with old people. In Ennistymon, there is 48% single occupancy of the houses and such single occupancy would be found in many towns and cities. People who live on their own might, if there was proper Garda vetting, share their home with a young person. The woman who has that project has a good system where she matches old people with young people who find cheap accommodation and the old people feel safe at night. There is much we can do in that area.

I must talk about mental health services. Prevention is better than cure. My son and his friend made a very important point about this issue. My son is 22 years of age and finished school a few years ago. I remember he and his friend, Conor, saying they would not be caught dead going into a counsellor's office. If it was mandatory for every student in the school to go to the counsellor's office once for 20 minutes, we would get young people over that threshold and break down that stigma or barrier. That should be mandatory. It concerns young people's mental health. That would help the maintenance of their mental health. That is what we should be doing. Consideration should be given to doing that for the purposes of young people's mental health. It would help if we could get them to understand they need to mind their minds from the beginning, as opposed to thinking they would never reach out for help until they have reached rock bottom.

We should praise the student councils and the students’ unions. It is important they have proper participation from everybody in every grouping. My son got into college through the disability access route to education, DARE. Students' unions are often full of privileged, academic upper middle-class students. Many people in politics have come from those but student councils and students' unions should be more diverse and represent all the different people who get into college.

I wish to move amendments Nos. 1 and 5, if that is in order.

A number of amendments have been tabled by Senators. Only one amendment, which is Senator Boyhan's amendment, can be on the floor of the House. The other amendments will be taken at the end of the debate when all Senators have made a contribution. The Senator can speak to those amendments he referenced.

I will come to them. I am quite supportive of Senator Boyhan's comments regarding the need for the Government to take on board the amendments. When dealing with a youth motion, where does one start and where does one stop in the context of what we could have put in and what we left out? Every issue that goes through these Houses is relevant to young people. I will speak later about the importance of lowering the voting age to 16. I want to open my contribution with the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, data released last week, which outlined how the pandemic has hit young workers the hardest. That should be a wake-up call for the Government and policy-makers here that we cannot return to business as usual after the pandemic. The ESRI report came after the publication of data from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, EUROSTAT, and the European Commission's statistical division, all of which showed the scale of the pandemic and the Covid crisis on young people. Reports from all three organisations outlined that the pandemic has hit young workers the hardest. We know there were 112,000 fewer 15 to 34-year-olds in paid work in the final quarter of 2020 than the year before. Employment was 14% below its pre-pandemic level for those 15 to 34 year olds. Part of the reason for the disproportionate impact of job losses on young people is that they were more likely to have been employed in retail, hospitality, arts and leisure sectors, all of which have been affected by the Covid crisis.

The data also reinforced one of the greatest threats to our society and economy, namely, the scale of intergenerational division and inequality that exists. Young people are locked out of housing and their earnings have stagnated. Young workers in their early 20s earned less in the 2010s than their counterparts did in the 1990s and the 2000s. A progressive country should prioritise a high wage and the kind of progressive growth in the economy that delivers for young people and society.

We could not include everything in the amendments. It was a case of "our demands most moderate are, we only want the earth." However, I will touch on what is contained in Sinn Féin's amendment. We make reference to the need to increase youth work and funding for youth work services in order to bring us back to 2008 levels. There is a perfect storm in the youth sector. Funding has not been restored and that is having a huge impact on volunteers. Youth services are looking for a major programme from Government, with funding to match, for education and training in order to bring funding back to 2008 levels. Youth services have an enormous financial impact on the State in regard to volunteering. The impact of the pandemic notwithstanding, the existing funding shortfall is creating a perfect storm in the youth sector. There is a major supply issue in the context of volunteers and the funding is not there to run many important programmes.

Our amendment also refers to the student contribution charge. It has been a long-held demand of the left that student fees be reduced. The charge involves no small sum. People are more impatient having seen what can be done in terms of how the State can respond to the pandemic. Our politics are on a trajectory we can all see. Young people have huge political influence as well, so we need to address these issues.

In terms of mental health, there will need to be surge capacity in terms of the provision that will be needed in the months ahead. Action is needed in this regard.

My final point relates to the proposal to lower the voting age to 16. We can do this without the need for a constitutional amendment. We can do it through legislation relating to European and local elections. It has been a long-time commitment of the Green Party to achieve what is proposed in this regard. Fianna Fáil has committed to it in successive election manifestos. Fine Gael has committed to it in the past. Ultimately, as many people as possible should be allowed to vote. We know from elections and the independence referendum in Scotland that young people aged 16 or 17 come out to vote in greater numbers than those in the 18 to 25 age category. I urge the Minister, who has responsibility for youth, to get behind that initiative and to bring his Cabinet colleagues with him in support of lowering the voting age in advance of the 2024 local elections. This can be achieved. It would be welcome if councillors across the State committed to supporting that change through motions. I call on them to do that, particularly as there is an impression there is not support in the political system for making that change. I am of the view that it should be done.

I do not think I need to formally second the amendment No. 1 but I echo the support for it and for what Senator Hoey said regarding the PUP and SUSI. I am already getting many emails about young people being pushed out of university because they cannot stay on their SUSI payments. The latter is unintended of Covid-19 which needs to be remedied quickly.

When I think about young people, it is such a big subject. How does one begin to talk about young people? I always need to take it back to who I was as a young person and the young people with whom I identify most.

Usually, it is the young people who are right at the back of the line. I try not to sound overly pessimistic - I do not know whether I achieve that - when opportunities arise to talk about new initiatives, new funding or an increase in the number of people who want to go to university. It is very hard for me not to look out my bedroom window at my community, knowing that even with the greatest will and intention, often no amount of intervention will reach those who need it most and who are furthest from the system. Those are the young people who are usually at the forefront of my mind in anything I do as a politician, such as working on spent convictions, drug possession or crime.

The young people I advocate for, and for whom I want to advocate even more, are often those society deem as problematic, as criminals or as causing a problem beyond antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour is probably a bit too light a term for what I am referring to. At some point in those young people's lives, they were not considered to be the same thing they are seen as when they hit 16, 17 and 18. When they were two years old, they might have been considered people in a vulnerable position or young children or families that needed support. At some point when they get older, poverty, deprivation and lack of access manifest themselves in the world as an outward behaviour that the rest of society can see, and they then become known as something else, whether that is as criminals or some other very classist words that I will not use. People might think that they just do not care or that they are violent. I do not know how much people know about childhood trauma but it can manifest itself as violence. Hurt people hurt people.

I would never suggest for a moment that we should not hold people accountable to try to help curb their behaviour, but when we look at young people and talk about their involvement in criminality or violence, we cannot separate them from their history. We keep separating young people from who they were two or four years previously, or when they were born, and then we separate their parents from their own history. Parents who have not had access to education or employment and do not know how to read information, search forms or understand what their doctor is saying do not all of a sudden know all those things when they become mothers. They do not suddenly know how to create a completely different life for the child they are after having. They are still that same person with that same lack of opportunity and the same lack of ability to advocate for themselves. People online often say "Where are the parents?" or "I blame the parents" but those parents were the same children all the previous Governments talked about. This is an intergenerational issue and we are failing people in their thousands. We often do not speak up for some of these people because they may also behave in very problematic ways, such as becoming robbers or being violent or so on. It all intersects.

I wrote my dissertation on the moral significance of class and poverty. I researched the philosophy behind all of it and the biggest thing I learned was that, while we are busy striving and talking about a republic of opportunity and equality of opportunity, there can never be equality of opportunity if the floor on which we are all standing is not the same. Opportunity means nothing if our environments do not look like each other. If my environment does not look like the next person's and theirs does not look like the next's, opportunity is meaningless and empty. We need to strive for young people, whose disposable income is now 16% less than it was in 1987. Young people now are experiencing a different type of inequality with the standard cost of living having gone up. We need to create a society where we all have the same social floor. What people do from there is up to them, but they should never fall below a certain point. There are too many people below that floor right now and that is what we need to fix.

I thank Senator Ruane. Not a word written, straight from the heart. I do not see Senator McGahon here so I will move on to Senator Malcolm Byrne.

I thank the Minister for coming in. I thank him also for today's announcement of the capacity building grants which help a lot of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people around Ireland. It is noticeable that, with the exception of Senator Boyhan, all those in the Chamber so far are either women or gay men. I hope we will see a number of our other colleagues taking part in what is a really important debate around young people's participation in society and how we can help them to recover. Last November I made a speech about young people missing out on rites of passage and made reference to nightlife and how young people were missing out on building relationships. It grabbed a bit of attention. Not everyone in here agreed with me but it is actually really important to young people because they have made enormous sacrifices in their social and personal lives, as well as in their educational and professional careers and these things are very important. We must acknowledge the contribution young people have made and how they have volunteered in their communities, as wells as on the front line in retail and our health service. They are going to have to deal with much of the social and economic consequences not just of Covid but also of climate change, the rapid change of pace with technology and they must deal with the housing crisis and everything else as well.

I want to focus on what we can do. A number of colleagues have spoken of the importance of investing in youth services. When we pull back the cotton wool that has protected us through this Covid period there will be a lot of scars. Our youth services rely very heavily on volunteers and they will need the supports in place to be able to help those young people who may have lost family members or friends to Covid or who have found this period hard on their mental health. Those supports, therefore, must be in place. I know specific cases have been made to the Minister about Scouting Ireland and some of the other youth organisations and that must be addressed. Others have commented on that. Equally, with regard to educational support programmes, while some have adapted very well to going digital, there is a digital divide and others have not been able to do so. We will thus need to provide those supports to allow people to catch up. Senator Hoey and others have mentioned the importance of reform of SUSI and access to it. We will be debating the housing issue later on which, again, is critically important.

There are a few other specific issues I think are important. One is the case of driving tests and the fact that there is a 30-week waiting list. That impacts on young people in a big way because it drives up the costs of their insurance, and their ability to be able to access services is limited, particularly in rural Ireland. Apart from all that, I would like us to be imaginative. We should look at the idea of a free travel scheme. Let us give young people a break. Why not allow free public transport for young people over the course of the summer? The EU has looked at a pilot scheme for inter-railing and so on but let us look at public transport here in Ireland and maybe give a certain number of free passes; it is something that has been tried in Belgium. We must look at nightlife. We must let young people get out. Senator Warfield has made arguments around this. We must be radical about when our nightclubs and city nightlife can open back up again. We must give young people the opportunity to go out there and enjoy it and to have a break.

Senator Dolan used the word "resilience". Young people have been resilient and it is important to acknowledge that. I have spoken to some of the most amazing young people over the last year. I have been involved in youth organisations for a long time and when one looks at the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union, ISSU, which many of us have engaged with, or at what is coming out of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, at the young social innovators, the young social entrepreneurs, the young carers, we have all these groups of young people who are doing things that are really imaginative and different. When we say no decisions without us, I do not necessarily want some task force on young people, and that is important, but we need to have young people at the decision-making table. Last week I told the Minister for Finance that the most innovative people coming out of Ireland in the fintech space have been the Collison brothers. Why not put them in charge of the forum on the future of banking?

As for the cybersecurity attacks, somebody such as Shane Curran and his company, Evervault, could do far more than some of those who have been responsible for what has been happening recently. Alicia O'Sullivan has been speaking out recently around cyberbullying and her testimony has been powerful. We should have voices such as hers at the table. Bláithín Ennis can speak to sustainable and ethical design. Fionn Ferreira has been doing amazing work about taking microplastics out of water. Jack O'Connor, a student from Limerick who I know, teaches farmers in Malawi how to plant seeds in a more imaginative way. These young people are making enormous contributions and we need to have them at the table.

I strongly support changing the voting age to 16. We need to make that decision, go with it and move on. It is about more than simply giving young people the right to vote. It is about meaningful ways of participating in society. It is about strengthening the student councils and Comhairle na nÓg. I would introduce participatory budgeting at local authority level to allow young people a say in the budget. We tried to do that in Wexford.

I know the Minister is passionate. Everybody in the country knows the difficulties that young people have faced over the past number of years. We now must give them a break. Every single decision we make over the next few months, from the review of the national development plan to the budget and the recovery plan for coming out of Covid must be youth-proofed. We must put young people at the centre of those decisions.

I welcome the Minister. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí; praise the young and they will flourish. Many of us will recall this Irish saying from our schooldays. Indeed, there is great wisdom and merit in that saying. However, praise can only do so much. The youth of Ireland need support, especially as we emerge from 14 or 15 months of rolling lockdowns that have affected them severely. Fifteen months is a long time in anyone's life, particularly a child or a young person. Young people are at a crucial time of personal development. At the same time, they are trying to progress in education, sport, socially and in the workplace. There has been a growing body of expert opinion and research on the manifold harms that lockdowns have had on people, particularly, in the context of this discussion, young people.

I call for a critical look at whether all aspects of restrictions affecting young people were necessary, proportionate and medically justified. The impact of the lockdowns imposed by the Government and National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, on the mental health and well-being of teenagers is, understandably, critically important to allow us to respond in a more nuanced way in the future. Dr. Caroline Heary from the school of psychology in the National University of Ireland, NUI, Galway has stated:

These prolonged periods of social distancing are occurring during a critical stage of life for our teenagers. Social interactions are of paramount importance for our young people. The social environment is critical for brain development, the development of self and general wellbeing.

Like many other demographic groups, the youth have all been in the same storm but have not all weathered the storm in the same vessel. Research and anecdotal evidence alike indicate that the lockdowns have impacted more severely on the youth than others. I have been inundated with heartbreaking accounts of hardship endured by parents and families of children and adolescents with special needs. It is a moral imperative that we do not leave anyone out of the recovery. There are already too many people contending with disadvantage, finding themselves at the periphery of society and excluded from economic participation. I believe the Minister to be a caring and genuine person. I ask him to do all he can to mobilise the resources of his Department to support young people with disabilities, their families, carers and organisations that assist them.

My amendment to the motion proposes an interdepartmental approach to be taken by the Departments of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; Education; Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and Health to design a scheme that is universally available to young people to provide them with free access to a range of different pursuits.

In the spirit of the Fine Gael motion, I would encourage engagement with young people themselves for ideas as to the range and breadth of activities that might be included in any such scheme. The next step might be to invite expressions of interest from the private sector in the range of areas identified. Services and amenities for young people in this country are sorely lacking compared with our European peers, suffering from decades of underinvestment. Lockdown has merely served to magnify these failures.

The housing crisis, low wages, unemployment, lockdown, disruption to education and healthcare, along with the lack of social outlets, have all put tremendous strain on our young people. Prior to the pandemic, our youth were already finding themselves being relegated to the bottom of the social and economic equality charts. I have a well-founded fear that the pandemic could deepen intergenerational inequality.

The Covid-adjusted youth unemployment figures of 61.8% for April floored me. To put this statistic in perspective, it is over double the peak rate of youth unemployment after the 2008 economic crash, a crash that sparked another lamentable Irish diaspora. Behind the appalling statistics, however, are literally hundreds of thousands of young people. They are in the spring and summer of their lives with hopes, dreams and aspirations that need to be nurtured not crushed. It behoves the Government to deploy all the available resources of the State to support our youth and to give them options other than that of obtaining a Covid-19 cert and a one-way plane ticket to distant shores.

The Government's voted current expenditure is running to almost €75 billion in budget 2021. In light of this, should we be applauding an increase of €5 million in funding for youth services? Can we not see the value of investing more in our youth? I urge the Government to do everything possible to assist the private sector to generate employment opportunities. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, is doing well with regard to youth unemployment.

We must do everything possible to support enterprise, advanced education and training opportunities. I fully endorse the amendments brought forward by me and my Independent colleagues which put flesh on the bones of these motions. I will conclude with a warning from Barra Roantree, an economist with the ESRI and a co-author of the report, Poverty, Income Inequality and Living Standards in Ireland, which states:

These findings should be a cause of serious concern. While the most serious medical impacts of Covid have been on older people, it is clear that the greatest impact in the labour market is being felt by younger workers.

To minimise the potential ‘scarring’ effect on young adults, policymakers should ramp up capacity on high-quality training programmes in the months ahead. Policies that act to tackle the root causes of high rents will also disproportionately benefit younger adults who risk otherwise being left behind.

A scheme like I have suggested would put all youths on an equal footing to develop into their best selves. Surely that is what we should aspire to give all our youth. That is exactly what Senator Ruane was talking about.

I thank the Minister for attending. I commend my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, and the Fine Gael group on bringing forward this motion.

I have worked for many years as a volunteer with many youth groups and have also been involved in a secondary school. Only recently I attended a Zoom meeting with some students to speak about their experience during Covid. While some of them had the experience of being able to go to school, I also met with some third level students who certainly felt that the biggest loss was not being able to meet their friends and colleagues. Not being able to meet first hand has certainly put an awful lot of pressure on young people.

There was a call earlier that a committee be set up and that the youth be engaged with it. It is the way to go because the youth have so much of a contribution to make. They have so many of their own thoughts and it is all about our futures as well. Many of them have thought it out.

Covid has taught many of us, including our youth, what needs to happen. It has given us time to reflect as well. I learned that from the two different groups I met.

In my community, a number of the voluntary groups that were previously run by older people were taken over by young people when Covid hit and the older people were afraid to go outside and get involved in the community. Young people got involved in the delivery of the meals-on-wheels service and a number of other services when people who would otherwise be involved in organising some of these services were not vaccinated and felt unable to contribute. Our youth went out of their way to get involved. They have made an enormous contribution during the Covid pandemic.

Many young people were mentioned by Senator Malcolm Byrne, including the Collison brothers from Limerick. We all know of their success arising out of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. There is a lot of investment in youth services, but we need to make further investment in programmes like that and to encourage youth to get involved. Young people also get involved in the Gaisce programme. We need to develop that further at a later stage as well. So many young people have contributed at bronze, silver and gold levels of the programme, but it is only open to those between the ages of 15 and 25. We need to expand programmes like that.

Many schools offer youth political programmes, but this is not compulsory. We need to encourage students to get involved in such programmes. I was involved in youth politics at a young age. It gave me a great understanding of my views and led to me getting involved in voluntary work in my community. That was my route into politics. It is important that we engage with young people. They have missed out over the last 12 months. They have so much to contribute. We should definitely engage with the student unions, but we should also put out a call to young people to come forward and participate in youth forums, such as Comhairle na nÓg, through which they can bring forth their own policies. So many young leaders have come out of that forum. An open engagement with organisations like that might be useful in developing youth policies going forward.

Senators Murphy and O'Loughlin are sharing time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. He has a genuine interest in making life a better place for our youth. We should all subscribe to that type of thinking.

I thank Senator Seery Kearney for bringing forth this important motion. In terms of Covid, young people have lost out on school and college time, participation in sports, part-time jobs, their social lives and their relationships. The rug was plugged from under them, but we need to acknowledge some of the work they have done. For example, those who had grandparents living in their areas have called to their homes to see if there was anything they could do for them, always mindful to be socially distanced. They went to the local shops to buy fuel and so on. In some parts of the country, young people got involved in social services. We should acknowledge that they were there to help during the crisis. They were also of enormous help to families with children with disabilities. Young people who have brothers, sisters or cousins with disabilities, for whom services were not available owing to Covid, were, I am told, on hand to help. That should be acknowledged.

We need to look at the paused apprenticeship programme. A lot of young people have had their apprenticeships paused and they have been told they will not be able to get back to them for six or seven months. I would like the Minister to bring that back to the Cabinet to see if we could get them back more quickly as long as more people are vaccinated and society starts to return to normality.

We also need to look at the operation of SUSI. Due to the PUP, there are families that will have difficulty qualifying for any grant. In normal circumstances they would qualify and those are people who do not have an awful lot of money. They are not in any way even middle-income families. We need to look at that to see if we can help them because the PUP has put them over the threshold. Maybe we need to step in there and try to do what we can for them.

As we go forward we have to engage with youth, listen to them more and give them more of a say. Prior to the arrangement of the leaving certificate, what the second level students got involved with in such a mature way was outstanding. It shows what can be done with people working together and listening. Some years back the second level students might not have been listened to and it might have been questioned whether they should have a say. Their contribution and the fact that the Government and all politicians listened to them and saw they had a good case to make on the leaving certificate was extremely important. In the end, we saw that when they were given a choice, some 98% of students were happy with that. They were listened to and the right thing was done. It shows that a level of co-operation and discussion is important. Rather than talk down to them and ask what they would know about it, we should bring them on board, talk to them, discuss issues and listen to them.

This is an important day for many reasons and this motion is certainly one of them. I thank Senator Seery Kearney for tabling this motion. "We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can always build our youth for the future." These were the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 when he announced the New Deal for the American people coming out of the Great Depression. We are looking at producing a new deal as we emerge from Covid. Those words are equally as important now, particularly around the notion that we need to re-engage with our young people.

There is no doubt but they have been hugely impacted by Covid, not just in education and the possibility to earn money as young people, but in all of their social mores, such as being involved with sport or with other organisations or just hanging out. While we are having the conversation about where we need to go from here, we need to have the energy, imagination, creativity, exuberance and talents that young people have in terms of that conversation about where we are and where we need to go.

I acknowledge that the national framework for children and young people's participation in decision-making was launched in April and that is crucial to the conversation. Like others have mentioned, I was hugely impressed by the level of engagement with young people in the examination years for 2020 and 2021 in terms of their advocacy for themselves and their peers. We can only learn from that. Our national youth organisations need to be supported, as well as those that provide sporting opportunities and the opportunity to participate through arts. CAMHS and all of the different programmes around supporting young people's positive mental health are crucial to the development of our young people.

I want to acknowledge that today is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. That is important in terms of young people in that community. We support them.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and thank him for all the work he has done in recent months. I thank my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, for tabling this Private Members' motion. I was listening in my office to the contributions, which have been very enlightening and positive. In particular, I listened to the contribution of Senator Lynn Ruane, which I found incredibly interesting with regard to the perception that when children have a tough upbringing certain people ask where were the parents and what were they doing. It is not as simple as this and it never has been. The Senator's contribution was very interesting.

When people speak on this subject they normally speak about their own experiences and sometimes this is all we can use as a basis for a contribution. I have been thinking about how to address this topic with regard to young people, the contribution they make and the difficulties they have had over the past year. Young people can be divided into three groups. There are extremely young children, toddlers and babies who have just been brought into this world in the craziest year we have ever had. My son is one of these. Parents naturally worry about the challenges that their children would not ordinarily have had in other years. It is simple things, such as interaction with other children and other people. I see it with my child. The number of people with whom he has interacted since he was born a year and a half ago is five or six. As a parent, I worry this might have a long-term effect. The challenge at this age is more about whether this will be seen further down the line.

Children who are of school-going age have been out of school and have not been with their friends. They have not had normal events such as holy communion, confirmation or gatherings of any kind, which are big things in children's lives at that age. That they do not have them is very difficult for them. It is probably hard for us to appreciate this.

Then we look at the challenges teenagers have, specifically those doing the leaving certificate and those who have started college. Students who have been in college for two years have not developed friendships because they have not been on campus. They have not had a normal college life. For most people who went to college, it is where they develop their personality and personal skills. Students have not had the opportunity to do this. Coming out of Covid, we need to recognise that many of the challenges people have had over the past two years will take a lot longer than two years to address. We need to be prepared for this.

Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about supports for young people. At third level, the Minister, Deputy Harris, introduced more mental health supports and staff for students in colleges. The demand for mental health services in colleges has increased dramatically. We need to focus on this even more.

I see the good work done by groups in Tipperary, such as Youth Work Ireland Tipperary, and the support they give to so many people throughout the county. We are supporting many sectors at present and organisations such as this will need support long after Covid. In Tipperary we are lucky to have a Jigsaw service. It has been delayed because of Covid, like everything else, but Tipperary and Wicklow were chosen to have a Jigsaw service. Jigsaw is a mental health service for those aged between 12 and 25 and it has been hugely successful in other areas. It should be rolled out not just in Wicklow and Tipperary but throughout the country as quickly as possible. The need is there.

Many Senators spoke about the contribution young people can make to society and I have seen it in the youth wing of my party. Last month, Young Fine Gael voted in a new executive, led by the president, Art O'Mahony. I congratulate him and all of those elected. The contribution they make is important, wide and varied.

Everyone has spoken about how young people can make such a huge contribution to society. Sometimes young people might think that can be condescending in a way, but it is not. If you look at the biggest changes we have seen in the past ten years, and only because I was watching "Reeling In the Years" on Sunday night, the marriage equality referendum and the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment were led by young people.

When we look at the exit from Covid-19, where we want to go from there and how society changes on the back of what has been the most traumatic year and a half in Irish history, perhaps this should be led by young people. The decisions we make going forward should be based on recommendations from some of those young people and groups. We have seen before that they are well capable of leading us, and generations even older than us, in the right way going forward. I thank my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, for bringing the motion forward and for the debate.

I warmly welcome the Minister. We are discussing young people but the voice of young people has been quite prevalent in these Houses in recent weeks. Three weeks ago, students from Tallaght Community School and Kinsale Community School appeared before the media committee and discussed the online safety Bill from their perspective. Their inclusion as part of the debate was critical, especially when, over the past year, the only way they could communicate was by way of social media. That was very relevant.

Addressing the committee, Megan Fahy from Kinsale Community School told us in no uncertain terms that:

It can be infuriating for students to be lectured on the dangers of social media by parents who perhaps do not understand that this is an integral part of growing up. Listening to young people [and young people] with experience ... [on] this issue is the best way to [inform decisions and to] educate.

Powerful words from her to us.

Equally powerful was a testimony we heard last week from the ISPCC and the Ombudsman for Children at the same committee outlining the impact of online abuse via social media. The CEO of the ISPCC, Mr. John Church, outlined the account of one 13-year-old girl named Kate who was contemplating slitting her wrists because of the abuse she suffered.

The appearance of Facebook, TikTok and Twitter at our committee this week is, therefore, an opportunity for them to start to address what these young people have said and what these companies will do positively to protect them. Regulation is coming for this unregulated sector, but I hope they come here with a positive attitude because these issues have been exacerbated because of Covid-19 and the abuse young people have suffered.

The words spoken by Megan were not the first time young people have told us we do not have a clue what we are talking about when it comes to matters concerning them. My 18-year-old niece said as much to me when Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke in this Chamber some time ago about how young people were missing out on the shift. She told me it has not been called that since I was in a nightclub back when the dinosaurs were around. That was some sucker punch to the old ego. Notwithstanding what it is called, the chance to swap saliva in a darkened corner of a nightclub with a sticky carpet has not been able to happen in more than a year. The thought of someone seeking a negative antigen test before they let you near them again in a darkened corner of Copper Face Jacks is hardly the best chat-up line to look forward to.

The resilience of young people over the past year has been immense and deserves great credit. Nothing has given me more pleasure in recent weeks than to see my own kids return to their sporting activities, be it the GAA or athletics. Getting sport back was a big thing for us in this country because it plays such a role in our society. The physical and psychological benefits are multiple.

There are many young people who are not involved in sport, however, and for whom the reopening of pitches had no consequence whatsoever. For many others, the inability to meet up with friends in a social club or nightclub or to attend a live music show is equally frustrating. The impact was felt by those whose passion and love is the performing arts and music.

We have seen countries, whether it is Spain or the UK, where live music events have come back. I know there is a huge appetite for that to return, especially when you see other live shows being cancelled already this year. I ask the Minister to work as closely as he can with the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, and others to make sure those areas in society can also reopen soon. They are as important as the sporting world on which we place much importance.

This has been a tough year educationally. Many have spoken about the impact on leaving certificate and junior certificate cycles this year. Like so many other aspects of our lives, we have woken up to the reality that testing kids by a written examination on one day of their lives is pure madness. Senator Ruane spoke passionately about this in the Seanad last Tuesday. The reassessment of that system is very much needed. I welcome that the Minister, Deputy Foley, said the reform process would look at this on the whole because it is badly needed.

Finally, the youngest people of all in our society are those in our childcare and early education centres. As the Minister well knows, the mobilisation of these centres to open in order that front-line workers could get to work was a mammoth effort co-ordinated on the ground with our county childcare committees, with which the Minister tick-tacked daily and weekly.

The actions, therefore, by the Minister's Department two weeks ago to renege on a Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, agreement from November last year to pay these co-ordinators in childcare what they are worth is disgraceful. This act was then compounded by a statement from the Department to the effect that those is the sector could pay themselves what they want but it would not fund them. That was a double slap in the face. Valuing those who are putting in place the structures for the early years sector and for our young children needs to start to be recognised in real terms, not with flowery language or plaudits. An agreement has been reneged on. It is fundamentally wrong. I hope the Minister will look at that, pay these people what they are worth and fund it as is required.

I congratulate my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, on bringing forward this very important topic. It is good to get this discussion going. Young people have borne the brunt of society's anger at certain things so many times over the past 12 months and they have been forgotten about in certain matters.

One thing that has annoyed me is that young people have had to sacrifice so much by essentially being locked in and cooped up for the last 12 months, and then you see the valley of the squinting windows-type stuff on social media where someone with a mobile phone films a couple of young people having fun outdoors, puts it up online saying this is why we will be in level 5 forever and the horror of it all. It is young people enjoying a level of socialisation in the outdoors. It is not a problem whatsoever. I find the kind of shock-horror we see from people online about it distasteful. In reality, the only reason people put it online is they are looking for a few retweets or likes. They are not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. That was one thing in the past year that annoyed me a little bit when it comes to young people.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a really good discussion with young people in my county of Louth. We had more than 100 people on a call about apprenticeships, which shows us why apprenticeships are so important for people who are aged 17, 18 and 19. There are so many different ways of learning. We all have a different way of learning, which is why apprenticeships are so important. It says to people they can get equally as good a career, job and outcome by doing an apprenticeship they want to do and in which they are interested rather than perhaps going to college and learning in a different way compared with someone else. To see that emphasis now being put back on apprenticeships and how crucial they are is really important.

People talk about the resilience young people have shown, and we look at the leaving certificate. I did my leaving certificate in 2009. The biggest problem with the leaving certificate in 2009 was that a school in Drogheda handed out English paper 2 instead of English paper 1 ahead of the rest of the country. The whole thing then had to be cancelled. I got a C2 and did really badly in my English because I basically studied exactly what I thought the pass examination paper was going to throw up, which then snookered me when the follow-up paper was completely different. That was the big disaster for people of my generation. We thought that was a big deal. If you look at it now, it was nothing whatsoever. The resilience young people have shown, therefore, has been incredible.

We recognise how important it is to get university students back learning on campus. My sister, Ruth, is 20 years of age. She is doing a three-year course in UCD and has spent 50% of her college lifetime upstairs in her bedroom doing online Zoom classes. She is moving to Dublin next week and is so excited to be able to get back to college and learning on campus come September.

It is very important for people of that generation to have the college experience. These will be the best years of their lives when they will learn so much about themselves, get a good education and have a good time. I am glad students are getting the opportunity to get back on campus.

The moral of this whole story, which everyone has alluded to already, is the sheer resilience young people have shown. That is to be commended. They are the hidden heroes of this pandemic over the last 15 months, the people who have probably had to make the greatest sacrifices. It is grand for me and many other Senators because we do not go out at weekends and no longer have a social life. These are kids who are in the prime of their lives and they have had a year taken from them.

Young people and sport is an issue that has been overlooked. The ages of 17, 18 and 19 are when good players become very good. Young people have missed out on that. They missed 12 months where they would have been physically developing, honing their skills and getting better at their sport. That is the difference between making it and breaking it. We have seen so many opportunities like that denied to young people in their sporting careers. I hope to God some will still have a good sporting career but we cannot underestimate how important the formative years of 17, 18 and 19 are in the career of a sportsperson. It has to be acknowledged that they have missed out on so much and that society needs to give them that break. I hope that once we get through the vaccination process and reopening is ramped up further during the summer, young people will have one hell of a party because they deserve it.

It is not just the young people who will be having the party. I commend Senator Seery Kearney on tabling this important motion. As has been said, the contribution of young people, the effect on them of the Covid-19 pandemic and their resilience have all been remarkable. One must consider the experiences of young people, including the leaving certificate classes of last year and this year and the college freshers who have not yet set foot in their universities. Hopefully that will change in September. Their contribution, commitment, resilience, tolerance and playing by the rules - because the vast majority of them have played by the rules - are remarkable and commendable. This generation of young people will define our future in a very positive way.

As a society, we have a responsibility to make Ireland attractive to young people. For too long, we have seen our young professionals leave the country as soon as they qualify and gain a year's experience in employment. We have lost thousands of medical professionals, from doctors and nurses through the whole suite of people trained in various medical disciplines, who have opted to go to other countries because of the lifestyle available, conditions of employment and so on. They are not leaving Ireland because they are forced to do so. They are leaving Ireland by choice. As a society, we must look at how we can make our country attractive to these people. I salute those who returned to help out in the pandemic when the call went out 14 or 15 months ago.

We need to invest in youth services. We need to significantly invest in youth clubs and youth cafés. This infrastructure is needed throughout the country, not only in urban areas. Some work has been done in this regard but much of it was paused as a result of the pandemic.

As with many other areas of society, we need to develop long-term strategic plans to support young people, particularly vulnerable young people. Every person born in this country has rights, as Senator Seery Kearney pointed out. In 2012, we had a referendum on children's rights. We also had a senior Cabinet Minister with responsibility for children. In saying that, I acknowledge the work the Minister has done since taking up his position. It has been a baptism of fire with all of the issues he has had to deal with. Now that things are beginning to settle a bit and he is getting comfortable in the seat, we will begin to see significant results from investment in youth services. This will create an environment in which young people who qualify and graduate will want to stay in this country.

It is reasonable and fair-----

I ask the Senator to conclude to allow the Minister to contribute.

I will conclude on this point. I acknowledge the work the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, has done in broadening the suite of supports available to young people going into third level education. With that, I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence.

I thank Senator Conway for his co-operation. It is appreciated. It is my great pleasure to welcome again the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, who always engages with us.

I am pleased to be here in the Seanad to speak to this important motion. I thank Senator Seery Kearney for bringing it forward and I thank all the Senators for their contributions. A wide range of issues has been raised, some of which fall directly within my Department's remit while others are within the remit of my Cabinet colleagues. I will try to address as many as I can in the time allowed.

While it has always been the case that our young people should be supported and have their potential and contribution recognised and fostered, now more than ever, it is critical that this happens. I have regularly spoken about what young people do for society and I have said that their contribution often passes under the radar, which is regrettable. I have also spoken about the particular impacts the pandemic has had on young people, including the barriers to their communicating, engaging and interacting with each other which they have experienced over the past 14 months. As such, I mention the importance of supporting them as we come out of this crisis and move past it. I am happy, therefore, to support the motion and I will outline the work being progressed to try to address many of the challenges that are raised within it.

The Covid-19 health emergency and its economic and social impacts have disrupted nearly all aspects of life in Ireland. The OECD and other research bodies have noted that young people, especially vulnerable young people, have faced immediate challenges and risks in the areas of education, employment, mental health and disposable income. Senator Keogan quoted the work of Dr. Barra Roantree from the ESRI in this area. The research indicates that the mental health and well-being of young people have been significantly impacted and shows the possible longer term social and economic consequences of the crisis.

As part of my Department's research partnership with the ESRI, last year we commissioned the report, The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for policy in relation to children and young people: a research review. This research focused on the expected impact of Covid-19 on children and young people. It was published last July and provided early evidence of the negative long-term impacts of the pandemic. It stated, as Senator Pauline O'Reilly noted, that these negative impacts would be felt worst by the most disadvantaged in our society.

Subsequently, my Department commissioned a survey of young people to hear from them directly about their experiences of Covid-19, in particular about its impacts on their well-being, with a view to informing how youth services and other services across government could best respond to the needs of young people. The results of this survey, How's Your Head? Young Voices During COVID-19, underline the experiences of many young people. The survey found isolation, boredom, anxiety, loss of income and other difficulties. It showed that young people miss their families and friends. This was one of the findings that emerged most clearly from the work. Young people expressed concerns around isolation and loneliness and about the lack of routine, education, work, money and access to services. Interestingly, it also showed that young people who had been in a position to continue to engage with youth services were more optimistic and had a better sense of what was going to happen in the future.

To ensure continued access to essential youth work activities during the pandemic, my Department has worked closely with youth services to ensure that young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, continue to receive the necessary supports to the greatest degree possible.

Youth services continue to be delivered, either outdoors or remotely, where necessary, with strict regard to public health guidelines through outreach work, small group work and crisis intervention work. I have continued to review and approve sector-specific guidance for youth work organisations. We have always tried to have it as up to date and expansive as possible, mirroring the general public health restrictions in place. We have done this in very close collaboration with the youth work sector. The guidance has been updated in line with changes to the public health measures. To support the delivery of necessary face-to-face supports for young people who are vulnerable, at risk or in crisis, youth service delivery has been explicitly recognised as an essential service under Covid-related regulations.

In recognition of the vital role played by youth services in providing support to young people, I have secured increased funding for the youth sector through the current challenging period. This extra funding has enabled the youth sector to continue to provide supports to young people, particularly to marginalised, disadvantaged and vulnerable young people. As a number of speakers have noted, a €5 million increase was secured in budget 2021, which brought the overall funding profile for the provision of youth services to €66.8 million nationwide. I have said before, and I will say it again here, that it is my intention in future budgets to continue to expand the amount we spend on youth services because it is one of the best investments the Government can make. This funding supports front-line services as they seek to innovate to continue to provide critical services to vulnerable young people.

In recognition of the particular challenges facing our country's youth, I approved a small grants scheme for youth clubs and services as a contribution towards some of the additional costs arising from Covid-19 restrictions. Last year, I was also in the position to provide €1 million in capital grants to support ICT procurement within the sector. Even though some of these grants are quite small, on a club-by-club basis they have been strongly welcomed by the sector. I am also conscious of the impact of Covid on funding and fundraising for youth services throughout the country. A number of Senators raised this matter. I will look to make the very best use of existing funds to support youth services, particularly over the summer and for the rest of the year. I hope to be able to say more about this later in the year.

I have also committed to ensuring the voices of young people are heard and given due weight in decision-making across government. This is a theme that emerged in many of the contributions today. The Department is progressing these aims through the implementation of the national strategy on children and young people's participation in decision making, the establishment of a national participation office, the recent publication of a national framework for children and young people's participation in decision-making and a renewed and strengthened commitment to Comhairle na nÓg, the permanent structure for the inclusion of young people in decision-making at local and national level. The new national framework was widely welcomed.

It is important to note that Ireland is not alone in acknowledging the detrimental impact the necessary health restrictions have had on young people. Last week, at EU level, the Porto declaration was agreed by the European Council. This declaration includes an action on supporting young people as part of a fair and equal recovery. Next week, EU Ministers with responsibility for youth and other member state representatives will come together at the Education, Youth, Culture and Sports Council of the EU to discuss ways to support young people through the recovery and to mitigate the particular impacts that the pandemic has had on young people. Research carried out at European and national level suggests that a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach must be taken to ensure that young people are not left behind as societies begin to reopen. Likewise, a key tenet of Ireland's national youth strategy is that achieving good outcomes for young people is everyone's business. It requires all Departments, the statutory and non-statutory sectors and wider society and communities to play their part.

I acknowledge the role played by the Ministers for Education and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputies Foley and Harris, and their Departments in responding to the impact of the pandemic on the young people in our education system. The Minister for Education has formally recognised that sustaining students' engagement and progression in learning is most effectively achieved when students attend school in person. It is also important to acknowledge that schools are important sources of social and emotional support for children and young people. The Department of Education has put in place significant infection prevention control measures to support the safe operation of schools and to reduce the risk of coronavirus being transmitted to and within the schools. Significant funding of almost €650 million has been put in place by the Government to fund Covid-19-related measures. These supports will ensure that schools can continue to operate safely in line with public health advice.

The National Educational Psychological Services, NEPS, developed a suite of practical resources for students, school staff and parents to support their well-being during this time. In addition, student well-being has been supported by means of the provision of an additional 120 guidance posts at post-primary level and the continued expansion of educational psychological services to schools.

The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has taken a range of initiatives to support third level students. In budget 2021, the Minister, Deputy Harris, secured once-off funding of nearly €50 million to provide additional financial assistance in the current academic year. This follows the doubting of the student assistance fund in 2020, increased funding for mental health supports, including €2 million provided in budget 2020, an additional €3 million provided as part of the 2020 Covid cost package, the introduction of a €15 million fund to assist third level students access technology including laptops and devices, and additional funding for postgraduate grant holders. I take on board the points made by Senators Ruane, Murphy and others on the issue with the pandemic unemployment payment and SUSI and I will engage with Cabinet colleagues on this. The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has established a working group to develop a plan for the reopening of third level in September in line with public health guidelines.

A number of Senators referred to the amendments proposed. Amendment No. 1 relates to a lowering of the voting age, something I have long supported and feel strongly about. It is an arbitrary age to state that aged 17 and three quarters someone is not entitled to make decisions on the future of their community and our society but that at the age of 18 they assume all the necessary wisdom. A demarcation has to be drawn somewhere but the experience of Scotland, about which Senator Warfield spoke, shows that young people and those aged under 18 are engaged and prepared to participate in the democratic process. The Senator pointed to the constitutional barrier to voting in Dáil elections. I thought back to what I thought was a very sensible proposal in the 35th amendment in 2015 to reduce the age at which someone could run to be the President and how it was resoundingly defeated with a 73% no vote. We are probably best to try it in European and local government elections to demonstrate the sky will not fall and then look to broaden it further. I am very excited about the legislation being brought forward to create an electoral commission and I will certainly be looking for the electoral commission to examine this proposal because it is significant. Having an independent body to oversee how our elections function in terms of their operation and wider questions about the electoral system is something that will be very positive.

The Independent Senators tabled a range of proposals and Senator Boyhan spoke passionately about the work of the Children's Rights Alliance and the Ombudsman for Children's Office. The Department has a very close relationship with both, the Ombudsman for Children as a statutory body and the Children's Rights Alliance as an alliance of NGOs. Senator Boyhan spoke about the 2019 report of the Ombudsman for Children. Even more recently, the report on direct provision was very critical of the treatment of children in the direct provision process and of Tusla and the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, both of which now fall within the remit of the Department. Since the report was given to the Department there has been substantive engagement with Tusla and IPAS. Both bodies have stated they will respond and accept all of the recommendations coming from the Ombudsman for Children. When the Ombudsman presented the report he commented on the fact that both bodies had fully accepted all of the recommendations and were working on them. The Ombudsman for Children and the Children's Rights Alliance have been very much involved in the drafting of the White Paper on ending direct provision. Senator Boyhan asked what are we saying to these groups.

I say to these groups that they have a direct impact on improving and enhancing the lives of all children in the country, particularly the most vulnerable, through their advocacy work and reporting mechanism. I consider both as an alliance with a particular statutory function that is very important in supporting the work of my Department.

Young people have a key role in Ireland's future in the post pandemic era. I thank them, their families and the organisations that have supported them for their ongoing efforts to support all of society during what has been an incredibly difficult 14 months. I am continuously struck by their resilience, and other Members have spoken about the resilience of young people. In the words of a young person taken from the "How's Your Head" survey, she said: "We are all in this pandemic together and we will come out of it together". That is a telling statement. From my point of view as Minister, I and my Department are committed to ensuring that sufficient supports are put in place to support young people. Again, I thank all Senators for their in-depth contributions today. This has been a very useful debate.

I thank the Minister for the comprehensive response to individual Senators on the issues. I call Senator Seery Kearney.

I thank the Minister and all my colleagues in the House. This is a good time to have had two hours dedicated to young people. It is the least they deserve. In the discussion we have highlighted their challenges, how they have overcome their challenges and how extraordinary they have been in the last year.

I used to talk a great deal about resilience, and many community reports and so forth have the word "resilience" in their titles. I have become very uncomfortable with it because there are some people who have not been able to demonstrate resilience and I am very sensitive to ensuring that they do not feel that there is any type of failing on their part. This has been a real challenge. Some people were better able to handle it than others and for those who were not, it is important that we come around and beside them and bring them forward with us so their ability to overcome the challenges of the last year is emboldened.

As always, I loved Senator Ruane's contribution. I want to read her thesis. I have taught about equality. I have always taught the idea of equality in an employment setting and in childcare settings. The analogy I always use is the fact that I am 5 ft, 1 in. so I need a step to be able to see over a 6 ft wall. Some people will naturally be that tall and be able to see over the wall, but others need that step. For equality to be truly lived we must ensure that assistance is put in place for those who need it. That needs to be in the here and now in terms of our aspiration for young people. We must aspire for them to be anything that they want to be in the State and for them to have that opportunity. Where somebody is born and educated should not disadvantage a person. We should have a just society that ensures there are very directed supports to wherever young people are growing up and that we channel our funding, ideas and innovation to make sure that wherever one is, one can be whatever one wants to be. When I kiss my daughter goodnight I say: "You are Scarlett Seery Kearney and you can be anything you want to be when you grow up". That is the daily narrative she gets. Every child in the State should get that aspiration. It is important we do that.

What I like, and what debates such as this bring out, are the things that are critical of Government. I really love that the reports that are mainly quoted across our democracy are those that tend to come from organisations and bodies that are funded by the Government. A true democracy funds criticism, and funds us to take analysis of ourselves. I read the Children's Rights Alliance reports and the reports of the ombudsman. I am a member of the joint committee on children and the Joint Committee on Disability Matters. We analyse these things, we get disappointed and upset and we invite representatives of the bodies to speak to us. In many cases, the people who are sitting in the room are in positions that are funded by the Government. It does not stop them from speaking out, because we live in a democracy where at all times we need to be impassioned and emboldened to be the best we can be. However, we never arrive. The day when the Opposition and the Government are all saying, "We are great and we have done it really well", there will be something wrong. We will always be championing being better and stronger. That is very important.

I respect the ambitions of the programme for Government. There are great ambitions for young people. The Minister has already more than demonstrated that he is in consultation with young people. He is not yet a year in office, and we have come an extraordinary way. I marvel at the publications and the consultation. The "How's Your Head" survey was very good. It was a good and valuable engagement, an engagement that had the integrity of being interested in the outcome and having the outcome in power. I believe that everything is set in place to ensure we continue to listen to and embolden our young people, and that we value them in the here and now and not just what they are going to be. That is a lesson I learned strongly from the former Senator, Jillian van Turnhout, who kept saying to me that it is not about the future, but about who they are here and now. It is important that we listen to that.

I thank my colleagues and the Minister.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 1:

After the third paragraph under “calls on the Government to:” to insert the following paragraph:

“- facilitate the direct political participation and empowerment of young people by lowering the voting age to 16;”

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

To insert the following paragraph after “calls on the Government to:"

“- address as a matter of urgency the current waiting list of 2,551 referrals for all Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), noting the increase in referrals to CAMHS during 2020, the 66% increase in hospital admissions for eating disorders during 2020 compared to the previous year, and to allocate adequate and targeted resourcing for the service;"

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

To insert the following paragraphs after “calls on the Government to:”

“- acknowledge that 112,000 fewer 15-34 year olds were in paid work in the final quarter of 2020 than a year earlier;

- take immediate action on the increased youth unemployment figures as set out in ‘Poverty, Income Inequality and Living Standards in Ireland’ an ESRI report due to be published on 14th May, 2021;”

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

To insert the following paragraphs after “calls on the Government to:”

“- increase investment in youth work services to meet the needs of a growing youth population, noting that funding for youth work is still 8.5% below 2008 levels, and to invest an additional €10 million to assist voluntary youth organisations to support young people, particularly the most vulnerable as we emerge from the pandemic;

- amend the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 to end sub-minimum rates of pay for those who have attained the age of 16 and those who are entering their first two years of employment;

- restore the full rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance to all those aged 18-24 years;

- reform the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant scheme, taking into account the real cost of living, with a view to providing meaningful support to students on lower incomes and expand eligibility to more hard pressed students and families to pursue higher education;

- immediately reduce the student contribution charge with the aim of abolishing all third-level, Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) and apprenticeship fees;”

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 6:

After the second paragraph under “calls on the Government to:” to insert the following paragraph:

“- , in recognition of the detrimental impact that this pandemic has had on the psychosocial development of young people, to create an annual scheme that would give young people free access to engage in a variety of pursuits with a social dimension be they educational, sporting or recreational in nature, and that this scheme would be particularly focused on all young people in second level education, YouthReach, Educational Training Boards and Third-Level Institutions;”

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Motion put and declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 5.40 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.