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20 February 2015
Citizenship 2000

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Programme 2 - Fermanagh Youth Shadow Council
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This programme is an examination of the history and workings of the only youth council of its kind in Ireland. The camera follows young councillors as they organise, implement and reflect on the success, or otherwise, of two major campaigns. The programme shows that mere participation in politics is no guarantee of success but that it is a worthwhile experience for many reasons.

The story begins with a look at the emerging democracies in South Africa (1994) and East Timor (1999). These situations are compared to the 1998 elections for the first Youth Shadow Council in Fermanagh, an area which also has a violent past. The election of 30 youth councillors by an electorate of 8,000 (every student of 14+ in Fermanagh) is portrayed as a significant sign of hope for the future.

We visit the youth councillors in an important meeting nine months after their election. The main protagonists in the programme introduce themselves and we learn of two major campaigns which will form the plot of the story.

Firstly, the students wish to improve leisure services for young people in Fermanagh. To this end, they are attempting to get bus fares home after school lowered, reduced rates in the local leisure centre and they may do a deal to lower food prices in McDonald’s. Their second campaign is to highlight and prevent incidences of sectarian bullying. The bullying campaign will involve the creation of a special poster and badge - selected from the competition entries of local schools.

During the programme we follow youth councillors from campaign to campaign as they go from meeting to meeting towards their dramatic conclusions. Throughout, the participants express how they feel about their role as councillors, about the impact of the television cameras on events and about the success, or otherwise, of their efforts.

At the end of the programme the global significance of what is happening with the Fermanagh Youth Shadow Council is highlighted again. We hear reflections on democracy in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, South Africa and East Timor. The importance of young people making a positive contribution is stressed.
Key Issues
  • The right of young people to influence decisions which affect them.
  • Young people making a difference and having a contribution.
  • The role of the media in influencing the campaigns and adult reaction to cameras.
The Process
All sixteen post-primary schools in Fermanagh plus the Agricultural College, Fermanagh College of Further Education and the Government Training Centre were invited to take part in the election. The County of Fermanagh was divided into six electoral regions for the election and voting took place in each participating institution on Election Day (November 18, 1998).

Voting was by Single Transferable Vote (STV) and by secret ballot. Authentic ballot papers were specially printed for the election. A 'count' system identical to the normal election procedures was staged centrally in Enniskillen Town Hall and results were posted live on the internet as the count progressed.

Thirty youth councillors were elected to the first Fermanagh Youth Shadow Council. A Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson were elected at the first formal meeting of the Youth Shadow Council (December 7, 1998). Sub Committees of the Youth Shadow Council were be formed around specific interests and issues to develop policy and take action when required. These sub committees meet more regularly than the full Youth Shadow Council.

Ongoing workshop, training and personal development sessions are held for elected youth councillors.
Before Viewing
  • It would be a good idea to discuss briefly the nature and importance of democracy. Students could be encouraged to list situations, countries where they feel people have a voice and others where representation is less effective.
After Viewing
What do you feel about the following quotations from people in the programme? Do you agree? Do they also relate to your situation?
  • "I joined the Youth Council because I wanted to make a difference to my community." - Killian
  • "I got interested in the Council because I wanted to make a difference, I wanted young people to have a say, and I felt they weren't being heard." - Laura
  • "I wanted to be a youth councillor because I thought it was something that would give me a lot of opportunities and make it possible for me to do something for the youth of Fermanagh." - Michelle
  • "I wanted to be in the youth council because I believe that power is not shared equally in our society and I think that young people should really have more of a voice." - Emma
  • "I wanted to become a youth councillor because it was an excellent opportunity for young people to have a voice in local politics." - Shauna
  • "I didn't mean for it to be you know like I'm against you all, I wanted my view to be heard... I wanted them to listen more than to say "no". Now a few of them did listen but there was a few people in there that I was very annoyed with and upset with their attitudes towards my opinion and towards the opinion of others. But as I said that's us as councillors that's not us as people" - Laura
  • "They probably were being easy. They probably think that we can't handle the questions. Maybe we can't but they probably were going easy on us and then with the cameras there as well they couldn't really go too hard on us." - Emma
  • "Interviewing adults is very intimidating sometimes and after going and getting what we wanted and then making our proposal and getting it accepted I thought I just felt really good." - Michelle
  • "When young people feel that they are part of the system and that their views are being listened to and that they are taken seriously as players, young as they may be, then they will truly realise that there is something worthwhile in being part of governments. That's the role that Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and others played - they were involved in politics at a very early stage and that is why today they are best role models and we do need other Mandelas , we do need other Mahatma Ghandis." - Mahlengi
Director's Comments
The BBC made quite an impact on the Youth Council's campaigns even though the Youth Council had been up and running for nine months before we contacted them. The campaigns were influenced by the BBC in terms of when, where and how meetings and events should take place. The BBC, because of budget constraints and a tight schedule, in a way focussed and condensed the campaigns so that they could be filmed. The councillors kindly agreed to do in a month what should have taken at least three.

As well as shortening and focussing the campaigns the BBC had other influences over the process. The presence of the camera had an impact on how meetings were carried out, on what was said and maybe even on the result. For example McDonald’s were going to have their local manager in Enniskillen meet with the councillors until they heard the BBC would be there. Then they sent a more senior manager from Belfast. Also, Translink were very cautious because of the effect the publicity might have. Some youth councillors felt that the camera lead directly to the success of the overall scheme.

As with all the programmes the Fermanagh experience shown is just the edited highlights of long meetings and very hard work and preparation. Some key events were chosen purely to tell the story and others were picked to add drama. However I felt that I was true to the process and that the story was told as well as I could in the twenty-three minutes that I had to tell it - some one else following the same plot could have told a different tale.
  • Does television of necessity simplify complex issues and make things look too easy?
  • Can television ever be truly accurate, does the act of filming change what is being filmed?
  • Could a similar campaign elsewhere and without the camera be as successful?

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