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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.8 Raising political awareness among young people

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 11/11/2020 - 01:19

On this page
  1. Information providers / counselling structures
  2. Youth-targeted information campaigns about democratic rights and democratic values
  3. Promoting the intercultural dialogue among young people
  4. Promoting transparent and youth-tailored public communication

Information providers / counselling structures

The Northern Ireland Assembly Education Service provides free education programmes and resources for young people, teachers, youth leaders, or anyone who wants to learn about the role of the Assembly and its work.

Working with Members of the Local Assembly (MLAs), the Education Service aims to engage with young people, helping them to understand how:

  •  the Assembly is relevant to them,
  •  democracy works, and 
  •  to take part in the democratic process.

It offers the opportunity to schools, youth groups and other educational groups to visit the Northern Ireland Assembly for a tour. The visit may also include a mock election or law making activity,  a Q & A session with MLAs or an address by a member of Assembly staff, for example a Committee Clerk.

There is also an outreach programme open to schools, other educational organisations and youth groups, where the learning programme takes place on the school or group’s own premises.

Learning resources for students are available on the Education Service's website, grouped by age, including resources for post-16. These cover topics such as devolution and the work of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Youth-targeted information campaigns about democratic rights and democratic values

Each year from September to December, as part of its Schools Initiative programme, the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland (EONI) visits around 180 schools with pupils in Year 14 (aged 17) to promote voter registration, encourage pupils to register by completing electoral registration forms and to take photographs for Electoral Identity Cards which pupils can use to vote or for proof of age.

As part of its outreach programme, the Northern Ireland Assembly holds ‘Let's Talk’ events. These are targeted at 16- to 18-year-olds who will be first time voters in the next election and would like the opportunity to put questions to local politicians. Schools may send up to 15 pupils to an event that have previously been held at a range of venues across Northern Ireland. This programme is currently suspended at the time of writing (September 2020) due to COVID-19.

In the lead up to the general election in December 2019, 1.5 million young people registered to vote in the UK from October 22nd to November 19th 2019. According to; 1,429,967 of those who registered are under 25, whilst 1,191,756 are 25-34 year olds, bringing the total number of registered 18-34 years olds to 2,621,723.

Additionally, the National Union of Students (NUS) ran a voter registration campaign which saw elected officers visiting college and university campuses across the country encouraging all students to register to vote before the 26 November deadline.

In the run up to the UK general election in May 2017, young voters aged between 18 to 24 were able to book a free place on tours of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. The move aimed to engage young voters with the democratic process and encourage them to register and vote.

UK Parliament Week has been developed by the Houses of Parliament as part of its Outreach and Engagement Service.  It is a programme of events and activities and an online conversation to connect people with the UK Parliament. Although the programme is not specifically targeted at young people, there is a dedicated section on the website providing ideas for schools and youth organisations to get involved in running or attending events.

The ’Parliament Explained' podcast, produced by the UK Parliament, is a series of six episodes explaining what Parliament is, how it scrutinises the work of the government and how people can get involved with its work. Note, however, that the podcast is not specifically aimed at young people.

Promoting the intercultural dialogue among young people

In the Northern Ireland context, the main cultural divisions concern religion and politics.

The 2020 Good Relations Week was held online  from 14 to 17 September 2020 due to COVID19. The theme for the free online showcase was ‘Celebrating Our Journey. Embracing Our Future.’ as it celebrated the efforts of people and communities in tackling sectarianism and racism and promoting cultural diversity in Northern Ireland.More information can be found on the Good Relations Week website.

As part of the Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) strategy, there is a summer camps programme for 11- to 19-year-olds, with camps being delivered on a cross-community (Protestant/Catholic) basis. Further information on the overall T:BUC strategy and other relevant strategies and policies, such as Community Relations, Equality and Diversity in Education (CRED) and Shared Education is given in the section ‘Main themes’ in ‘Youth policy decision-making’.

Promoting transparent and youth-tailored public communication

The UK Government operates within the general context of the Open Government Partnership, of which it was a founding member in 2011. This is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. Hence, it operates within a general system of open government, based on the principle that:

Governments and institutions work better for citizens when they are transparent, engaging and accountable.

Details are in the third UK Open Government National Action Plan, covering the period 2019-2021.

The Northern Ireland Open Government Network is an alliance of individual citizens and representatives of voluntary/community organisations with the following vision: ‘To contribute to delivering more open, transparent and accountable government that empowers citizens to shape decisions that impact on their lives’.

The Northern Ireland Executive contributes to the UK Open Government National Action Plan 2019-2021, stating its commitments to achieving open government. This includes: public sector innovation and social innovation, transparency and public accountability, citizen participation and open policy making. 

See ‘Young People’s Participation in Policy-Making’ for transparency in decision-making.