Comhairle na nÓg 31 youth councils across the country
giving young people a voice on local services & policies

Dáil na nÓg returns to the Houses of the Oireachtas

Dáil na nÓg returns to the Houses of the Oireachtas

Photos from the day here.

On the 27th March, over 160 delgates from Comhairlí across Ireland met in Dáil Éireann to debate the critical issue of mental health, one of the biggest topics of concern to young people in Ireland, particularly since the pandemic. Mental health was identified by over 3,000 young people across Comhairle na nÓg as their priority issue for discussion in advance of today, which they feel that the Government should do more to address.

Dáil na nÓg, Ireland’s National Youth Parliament, now in its 22nd year, tackled a range of issues related to mental health, including body image, school stress, and mental health services. The biennial parliament, which provides a platform for young people to speak about and make recommendations on the issues that most affect them, was hosted by the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who chaired the Opening Session in the Dáil Chamber. There were closing remarks in the chamber from Minister of State for Mental Health & Older People, Mary Butler.

Comhairle na nÓg delegates – representing each of the 31 local authorities across Ireland – filled the committee rooms in Leinster House where they took part in workshops to debate the three mental health topics. Discussions were held around how mental health affects the lives of young people in their communities and what changes need to be implemented to address these challenges and improve the experiences of young people in Ireland. Following a formal vote in the afternoon where delegates processed through the lobbies of the Dáil, school stress was selected as the priority topic. This will inform the work of the incoming Comhairle na nÓg National Executive 2024-2026, who are tasked with advocating for policy change in this area during their tenure.

Previous years’ themes have included equality, climate action, education, and transport. 2022’s delegation voted for ‘A more inclusive Relationships and Sexuality Education’ as the priority topic. To progress this the National Executive 2022-2024 contributed their views to two National Council for Curriculum and Assessment submissions, attended round table discussions hosted by the NCCA on the content, and conducted surveys with Comhairle na nÓg members. They have also invited and taken part in discussions with relevant experts in the field from the Department of Education, Dublin City University, the Health Promotion Research Centre and the World Health Organisation. They have made a proposal to the Department of Education who welcomed their work and committed to consider ways in which to implement their recommendations. 

Chairing the debate, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, told those gathered: “The young people gathered in the chamber are a powerful force for change. At a time when parts of the world are in turmoil with war, hunger and the devastation of climate change, it is you who hold the keys to your own future. Your discussions today on the themes of Mental Health, Body Image and School Stress will evoke thoughts and compassion for your peers and colleagues. If there is one thing I would encourage you to do in this Chamber today, it is to listen completely. When you listen you play one part of the conversation. The golden rule of being a good speaker is to be a good listener.”

In her closing remarks to delegates, Minister of State for Mental Health & Older People Mary Butler added: “I was really pleased to listen and engage with 160 articulate young people across all 31 Comhairle na nÓg. The voice of younger people must be heard and listened to, particularly on issues such as youth mental health. I want to thank each and every one of these young people for the valuable contributions they are making to society. As advocates representing young people across Ireland, I have heard your voices today and I share your vision for improvement and progress, especially in relation to signposting services that are available for young people to support their emotional wellbeing and to support positive mental health. I am familiar with the fantastic work that Comhairle na nÓg do. Our young people are the future leaders and it great to see them here in the Dáil chamber today discussing such an important topic.”

Dáil na nÓg is organised by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in association with members of Houses of the Oireachtas and Government. Dáil na nÓg is an initiative of the Department for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and was first established in 2001. The topic of school stress voted on today will form the basis of the incoming Comhairle na nÓg National Executive’s formal workplan for the next two years. The National Executive is made up of one representative from each of the 31 Comhairlí na nÓg and follows up on the recommendations from Dáil na nÓg to make changes for young people in those areas. The National Executive has a term of office of two years and meets once a month, and is facilitated and supported by the National Participation Office and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth who ensure that they get the opportunity to engage with appropriate Ministers, policy-makers, Oireachtas Committees and other decision-makers.

Ruth Cunningham, a delegate from Comhairle na nÓg said, 

It was so exciting and such an honour to be present in Leinster House. Dáil na nÓg is so important in giving a voice to young people in Ireland and I was very proud to represent my local Comhairle and help us play our part in shaping how members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and Government will look at youth mental health over the next two years.

Minister O’Gorman further said: 

“I am very pleased that Dáil na nÓg sat in the Dáil chamber, with delegates from each of the 31 Comhairle na nÓg local youth councils. This youth parliament convenes every two years and is an important way for members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and Government to hear directly from children and young people on the priority issues that need to be addressed. I have been very happy to support and promote the voice of children and young people in Government decision-making and applaud the young people who have come here today to advance this important work.”