Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Speed Dating for Politicians!!!!

I attended a speed-dating (or speed canvassing maybe?) event this evening organised by Comhairle na nÓg, or Voice of The Young in City Hall. It comprised about 8 Councillors and a number of young people who had 3 minutes exactly to speak to each other, followed by a 30 second break (where the young people 'scored' the politicians), before the next person arrived. And so on and so on until everybody had spoken to everybody.

I must say that I enjoyed it and it was a very invigourating event. It is heartening that the young women (mostly) and one young man who attended (a) bothered to come and (b) were articulate and interested in very many facets of City life - as evidenced by their concerns and, in many cases solutions.

Some of them I had met before, both when they presented recently at a formal meeting of City Council - very nerve wracking I know, and earlier last year when they organised a rally in John Roberts Square to protest at the education cuts at second level which were imposed by Minister Batt O'Keffee and invited me to be one of the speakers. I must say that they were very impressive. They were obviously aware of local issues and keen to have an input.

As someone who has campaigned for young people to attend the City Council meetings I must say I find this very heartening. I suspect that some of the young people and one young girl in particular might make an impression on the political scene in years to come. I certainly encourage that - we need more women in politics. Lots more women. Although it is not easy with children I have to say.

But thats not the issue here. I want to detail some of the concerns the young people were interested in. They ranged from public lighting in the Peoples' Park and The River (Suir) Walk, to supervision of some sort in the park. Pedestrian safety at Abbey Road and Ballybricken also featured, as did public awareness of the work of the Dog Pound and dog fouling in the suburbs (yeuch!). Disability access also came in as something which concerned young people as well as homelessness - especially youth homelessness. Finally the availability of and awareness of sporting facilities was raised.

I have to say that the last one interests me greatly (although I am certianly not known for a great interest in sport) but it allowed me to get onto a hobby horse of mine and one which I have spoken about before, which is the availability of sporting activities for girls. Ironically it was the one young man in attendance at the event who raised this issue and in fact he agreed with me that sports facilities for boys were far more widely available (and often free or very cheap) while many of the sports and activities preferred by girls are not free, and can in fact be very expensive and often have long waiting lists.

It galls me is, not that if my son wants to play soccer or hurling or rugby that he can go along any Saturday and be made welcome, but that the sport which my daughter favoured i.e. tennis - had a 12 month or so waiting list (this was a number of years ago I'm not sure of the situation now) and was quite expensive to join. (Not the fault of the Tennis Club, I hasten to add - they are providing a magnificent facility.) I would certainly like to see another Tennis Club coming on stream in the City. There is obviously room for it with those kind of numbers.

Gymnastics was another thing she wished to try but as above, it was not as easy as 'coming along on Saturday'. Now before you say it, I know that many girls play soccer and camogie etc., but not anything like the number of boys that do so and they tend not to stick with those sports in the same way that boys do (again I know there are some exceptions). I also know that many boys play tennis and gymnastics, but not as many asa are members of the very many soccer, rugby and GAA clubs in the City. And I'm gald we have those clubs. They provide an invaluable service. I'm just questioning the same (free) availability and organisation of activities for girls.

The skatepark provided by City Council is mainly frequented by boys - while girls tend to want more socialising - a place to hang out, or dance or act etc. My own daughter is a member of Breakbeat and would go up there 7 days a week if she could.

Why is it that the free stuff is there for boys sports and not for girls? Almost all the things that girls like to do costs money. This has bothered me for ages and I'm glad I was reminded of it. Maybe we can start to affect change in this balance. I also had to agree with him that the awareness of all the sporting facilities needs to be worked on in order to ensure that even more people take part in very enjoyable, healthy activities.

Although I add a caveat that I do not subscribe to the paranoia that exists regarding obesity at the moment. I'm not at all convinced that it isn't being driven by simple marketing behind it all. When you 'follow the money' as I like to do to get to the root of many issues, you arrive at very powerful food marketing companies that want to sell you food with healthy or even (alleged) medicinal attributes - like cholesterol lowering yoghurts and the like. I do not observe a massive amount of fat children over and above what was in my own class/school when I was younger. But who am I to question the motivation and statistics of the 'big guns'.

Anyway, I have committed to looking more closely at some of these issues and coming back to them later in the year with information on what action we can take, which (if I'm re-elected) I will certainly do.

I must keep an eye on some of these young people. I think its fair to say that they represent a good percentage of young people. They were well mannered, well informed and passionate. I thought the whole event was a great idea and well organised (as always - well done Sue!) and well worth doing. It's only a pity that just two of them had a vote and none of those in my ward! LOL! I expect to see them go on and achieve great things. Lets hope they do.

Congrats to all involved.

Photo shows the skatepark in the Peoples Park.

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