Youth Perspective: Political Participation of Youth

Mair Kelly, Youth activist and President 2022/23, UCC Societies Executive, reflects on her learning exchange as a Panelist to an international CityLabs workshop on Political Participation of Youth

Virtual Place

Online via Zoom


Start: 25.11.2022
End: 25.11.2022


UCC Societies Executive


Following local CityLab activities in Rotterdam on Youth Political Participation (see here and here) and in Cork on Political Participation of Migrants and Ethnic Minorities, CityLab Co-Ordinators from Rotterdam, Oulu and Cork organised an international workshop on the topic of Political participation of Youth with the aim of exchanging experiences and ideas across the UNIC Alliance. A summary of the event is posted here.


Representing Cork and the Youth Voice, Mair Kelly, President UCC Societies Executive participated as a panellist. Here she shares a summary of some of her insights and take-aways from the workshop.


As a panellist, I had been asked to consider issues of trust, do youth trust politicians and political systems, why/why not? What motivates engagement? And what is needed to support youth political participation?

Cork, Finland and Rotterdam all presented, whilst touching on different areas. Yara Toenders from Erasmus University, Rotterdam discussed a study on Societal Contribution in Adolescence and Early Adulthood, Iida Laurila of the Finnish National Youth Council Allianssi shared insight through her work and I, from University College Cork, shared the current context of youth political engagement in Ireland and some of my own experience including as YMCAYouth Advocate and Board of Directors Member: Global Justice and International Development Committee.

As UCC Societies President, I discussed youth participation in politics in the Irish context. UCC Societies are for students by students and operate in a democratic structure. There are over 100 societies in UCC, each run by an elected committee and supported by an elected executive. All activity is for students, by students. These committees run not only the events but manage finances and publicity also. In my presentation, I also discussed the different ways that young people engage in Ireland, through student politics, through the likes of youth councils like Comháirle na nÓg or through youth information platforms such as, which is for young people, by young people.


Both Ireland and Finland have a very engaged national youth council body with similar local and national structures. Comparisons were drawn between Ireland’s Comhairle na Nóg and The Finnish Youth Act. In Finland, every municipality must have a youth council with delegates participating in decision-making as part of the Youth Act, which shares similarities to the idea behind Comháilre na nÓg. Comháirle na nÓg are child and youth councils in the 31 local authorities of the country, which give children and young people under the age of 18 the opportunity to be involved in the development of local services and policies.

Rotterdam discussed how essential trust was in encouraging political participation, something all three agreed upon. I know in the context of societies, trust is essential and is what helps build confidence and the capacity in taking action. Participants also discussed voting habits, Rotterdam highlighting how political engagement and youth engagement didn't necessarily translate into voting engagement. Lack of trust in Governments and Political Parties were examples of why participants felt youth did not always vote. Vote at 16 was noted as a key area of interest for youth politics in all three regions, that sometimes youth were extremely educated and informed, but had little say in their political decision making..

We also discussed the challenges that we feel young people experience in participating in politics. Accessibility was a key running theme throughout this. For those experiencing the direct effects of issues like housing, climate change and poverty, being politically engaged is a privilege. It means giving up time that could be put towards earning a wage, college or caring roles to ensure a seat and space in decision-making.

Then, when you get into the door, the language itself surrounding politics is a key issue. Many have an interest and passion for their community, social justice issues or civic engagement, but find the challenging language off-putting and a barrier to political engagement. This deters people, as it makes people feel, yet again, they are unwanted in the room or discussion. Access to transport and technology presents further challenges. Poor quality roads or access to affordable and reliable public transport in combination with unreliable poor-quality internet can leave some without any way to actively engage. For many, they struggle to engage with politics, as why would you engage with a system that appears to reject you?

Learning Reflections

It was useful to hear from the other cities. I think for me, a big concern is how to ensure those being directly impacted by social justice issues have support and access to working upon the challenges that impact them, especially more marginalised and isolated communities. The UNIC European University can play a role in building capacity for community-led, collaborative and participatory action around this, locally and across the alliance.

The CityLabs activities taking place in Cork together with Cork Migrant Centre towards advocating for better access and support to decision-making and voting rights is a key example. Our colleagues Dr Naomi Masheti and Fionnuala O'Connell at Cork Migrant Centre have been driving local action and education on voting rights, not just for the community, but with local politicians who were unaware that many refugees and asylum seekers had voting rights in local elections, challenging both myths and misconceptions of the migrant community, whilst taking action and providing opportunities for political engagement and education. A more recent local success is the Cork Anti-Racism Summit, organised by young people, who invited policy makers and government officials to have conversations about racism and change locally and nationally.


In the sessions people pointed to some key EU resources and information on good practice worth sharing, including:

Oulu also shared the example of and Material from the School of Politics for Young People.

I would also point people to the Lundy Model as a key resource that helps ensure empowering and respectful youth participation. Developed by Professor Laura Lundy, it is based upon Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and underpins much of the youth sector's work on political participation in Ireland. It aims to help decision-makers ensure a rights-based practice in youth political participation and is based on four key areas:

  • Space: Children must be given the opportunity to express views in a safe and inclusive space.
  • Voice: Children must be facilitated to express their views, e.g providing information and support
  • Audience: The view must be listened to, ensuring they are communicated to the right people.
  • Influence: The view must be acted upon, as appropriate. Transparency is key, where is their voice going and how is it being used?

Final Thoughts:

This model touches upon a number of the themes discussed in the event, like trust, motivation, ability and transparency. It also provides questions that facilitators can ask of themselves, like is this space accessible and safe? Do young people have the information they need to discuss? Is there a clear, transparent process for communicating back views and finally, have young people been shown how their views have had an impact on decision-making – and if not, why?

About Mair

A UCC graduate of International Development and Food Policy, Mair is passionate about community support and creating opportunities for empowerment, learning and advocacy. She has served as a member of the National Youth Council of Ireland's Young People’s Committee and is an active volunteer including for Cork's Youth-Led Anti-Racism Summit, YMCA, and as a member of UCC's Failte Refugees Society and UCC University of Sanctuary. Having handed over the role of President UCC Societies Executive to the incoming post-holder, Mair Kelly is now working with CityLabs Cork supporting the sustained partnership approach and next steps for local challenge topic: Political Participation of Migrants and Ethnic Minorities.


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