In Foróige, youth participation means young people being actively involved in infuencing decision making and the direction of the organisation by voicing their opinions, attitudes and values. This is a step beyond consulting with young people about the issues that affect them.

In 2011 Foróige began to further develop youth participation within the organisation. We have defined youth participation in Foróige as young people being actively involved in influencing decision-making and the direction of Foróige by voicing their opinions, attitudes, perspectives and values. This is a step beyond consulting with young people about the issues that affect them and more about engaging them in genuine debate and decision making about solutions to these issues and following through with real actions.

Nothing About Young People, Without Young People

Foróige has an excellent track record in youth participation with our Reference Panel – a democratically elected body of Foróige members who make recommendations to the organisation on issues affecting young people today. It enables young people to have a voice in Foróige and to influence the future direction of the organisation.

Four members of the Reference Panel are subsequently elected onto the National Council of Foróige – the organisation’s governing body, to represent the views and opinions of young people at the highest level.

17 year old Ciara Fallon from the Foróige Attic Youth Café in Longford was elected onto the Reference Panel, National Council and National Executive of Foróige in 2011
“ Since getting involved in the Reference Panel I’ve noticed a lot of changes in myself. I’m now a more confident person and I am able to get up and speak in public without shaking like a leaf.”

“ It was also an immense experience to sit on the National Executive of Foróige. My opinion counted in making really important decisions for the organisation. Do I think the voices of young people are really heard and listened to at the heart of Foróige? 100% and I’m a real example of that.”

Part of the youth participation agenda in Foróige is to ensure that all young people, regardless of how they are involved in the organisation have the same opportunity to influence the direction of Foróige. To this end we have 17 youth participation structures throughout the country representative of young people involved in a variety of Foróige projects.

In 2011 Foróige conducted a review of its youth participation structures, including the Reference Panel, which concluded that “Foróige’s Youth Participation Structures have the potential to become one of the most significant platforms for the voices of young people in Ireland”.

The start of the journey towards realising this potential came when young people from Foróige’s Reference Panel, youth participation structures and participants at level 3 in the leadership programme came together to engage in a ‘Vision for Ireland’ Youth Forum putting the spotlight on Presidential Candidates regarding the role young people would play in their Presidency.

“ Do I think the voices of young people are really heard and listened to at the heart of Foróige? 100% and I’m a real example of that.”
Ciara Fallon, 17
Foróige Spotlight on Presidential Candidates

On Monday 3rd October 2011 five of the seven candidates in the presidential race – Séan Gallagher, Michael D. Higgins, Dana Rosemary Scallon, Gay Mitchell and Mary Davis participated in a ‘Vision for Ireland’ youth forum with a 100 strong delegation of young people involved in Foróige from all across Ireland. The energy in the room was palpable as young people engaged in debate with the candidates on the issues that are closest to their hearts – education, the economy, youth mental health, emigration and equality.

Michael Kiernan, from Foróige’s Tallaght Youth Forum got to experience the momentous event first hand.
“ The Presidential Youth Forum was amazing. We got to ask questions and have great conversations with the candidates on the issues that young people are thinking about these days. Even though the majority of the young people there on the day had no vote in the election, the candidates cared enough about our voice as citizens to really engage with us.

I was looking for a candidate who would put the community first. I wanted to see that the candidates had a knowledge of the rights of families which is what the Constitution of Ireland is based on. I wanted to see evidence of moral leadership and find out if they had a real desire to stand up for those who aren’t heard in our society.

The highlight for me was getting time to tease out issues with the candidates in small groups. It was almost similar to getting one-on-one time with them. I felt afterwards that we had influenced the opinions of the candidates, as later on in the campaign they were raising issues that we brought up at the Forum.”

Speaking after the event Seán Campbell, Chief Executive of Foróige commented,
“ Young people as citizens of the future are well informed and have views and aspirations on the type of president they want to lead us for the next seven years. Today the Presidential Candidates got a very important insight into the thinking of our future generation and no doubt the promises made by each candidate won’t be forgotten by the young people when our new First Citizen takes up office.”

Prof. Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement at NUI, Galway, who chaired the forum said
“ Often young people are overlooked as potential voters as it is assumed there is a lack of interest or apathy on their part, but this is the exception rather than the rule.”

We will continue to actively engage greater numbers of young people in youth participation structures to ensure that young people’s opinions are at the heart of all decision-making undertaken by Foróige.

President Higgins