Where are our MLAs?

On a sunny Saturday over 70 young people from across the country came together to discuss transport. Many of these young people had travelled long distances to get there because they felt passionately about this issue in their area. A look at the #transportNI timeline will show the strength of feeling over the issue of Translink and access to transport

The event was run by the NI Youth Forum and the British Youth Council. All 108 MLAs were invited along by the Forum to engage with these future voters on this important subject. Not a single elected member turned up!

By the next election this group shall almost all be of voting age, yet our politicians declined to give up an hour of their day to answer some vital questions.

A panel discussion was planned with several MLAs alongside a representative of “Sustrans” and the Consumer Council. When it came time for the session a Translink representative volunteered to take queries, filling in the empty chairs on the stage.
Where were our MLA?

Young people are a vital customer base for Translink. They use buses to get to school, work and social activities. With the government owned company expected to make a colossal loss next year this is an issue of great importance to Stormont. Yet, we saw none of the “Folks on the Hill.”

Do young people not deserve an hour of our politicians time to discuss transport?

Eddie Cochrane, in his song Summertime Blues coined the phrase “I’d like to help you son, but you’re to young to vote.”

Is this yet another case of politicians ignoring young people who are engaged in the political process?

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  • Actually quite surprised to hear this, there are always a few MLAs who jump at these opportunities. There seems to be a core group who attend these events and a large amount who don’t seem to make much effort at all. Perhaps the core group didn’t show up.

    Equally disappointed however. Very important issue and the frontline service at Translink seems especially bad for young people.

  • Barnshee

    Too busy riding around in their cars (@ 65p /mile)

  • Drumlins Rock

    Barnshee, surely by not attending they saved that mileage, particularly those furest away.

    Alex, can you need to provide more details, I’m guessing it was at Stormont on Saturday. MLAs are as entitled to a weekend as anyone else, more often than not they are doing constituency business. You say give up an hour of their time, but for a Fermanagh based MLA that is at least 5 hours, is a “talking shop” really the best use of that time?

  • Mick Fealty

    Of course DR, ‘damned one way or the other’ I suppose, but ‘engagement’, or lack of it, I think, was Alex’s point…

  • Drumlins Rock

    Mick, I know, but you know i can’t resist playing devils advocate, have no idea of the details but would it genuinely have been a good use of MLAs time? Certainly they should have called in if close by and free, but most wern’t either of those.
    I would like to know more details, was it just a general letter invite or were individuals approached? surely if the main issue was translink then the DRD committee should have been the main target not all the MLAs, or else have discussions focused in local areas and invite the local MLAs.
    Yes our politicians need to engage, but it should be a productive use of their time, and they do have the right to time with their families on a Saturday afternoon I would hope.

  • You are right DR. They cannot be expected to work a 7 day week. However they are elected representatives and in putting themselves forward for that role, they do implicitly accept that they will have a more restricted private life and that the job might involve weekends and unsociable hours.

    That’s besides the point anyway. The Translink issue is urgent and important. Serious questions are being asked about spending, salaries, efficiency, effectiveness and value for money. We’ve all heard the stories about Translink NI bus drivers and their, at times, obtuse nature when it comes to young people (not to tar them all with the same brush, most get on with the job and carry the job out by the book, I’m sure). Tackling the Translink issue, albeit a complex one, could turn out to be a bit of a win for somebody…

    Young people and schools are hosted by NI MLAs and MPs regularly at Stormont and Westminster. Plenty of MLAs travel to debate in front of A Level politics classes. I don’t think they fail to engage with them, that is why I am quite surprised and disappointed at the failure to get involved with what seemed to be a very well-planned and worthwhile event.

  • I have some sympathy with the position of MLAs. The last time I heard a young person complain about not being appreciated by politicians was at an Election Hustings……in a school.
    Indeed half the Facebook status thngs I read are MLAs al parties) stating that they have just attended a sixth form gathering at a local school.
    Most seem pretty good about doing it……as indeed they should.
    A few weeks ago I attended a SDLP Youth Conference in West Belfast. I think seven MLAs attended…and John McCallister MLA addressed the meeting (excellent speech). Ed Simpson of the Green Party was also on a panel discussion.
    I attended a Young Unionist/Young SDLP debate in Strandtown last summer. I think about four UUP MLAs were there.
    But I really dont see the value of Young Peoples Forums/Parliaments or whatever. There is a broader audience to be addressed and I think politicians are well within their rights to go for it.
    There is plenty of engagement with young people.
    But seemingly not thru this Forum. Which may or may not be reasonable. After all by the next election “almost all” (sic) of these young people will be of voting age.

  • AlexHuston

    Drumlins Rock – This event was organised on a Saturday at the Hilton Hotel in central Belfast.
    Young people from all counties in NI came to this event, many of them using public transport. They managed to make their way to the Hilton.
    MLAs have cars, many young people don’t. We were not asking for them to spend their entire Saturday amongst us, just 45 minutes of their time.
    When would you suggest we organise it, so young people from across the country can make it, to suit the MLAs?

  • Barnshee

    “Barnshee, surely by not attending they saved that mileage, particularly those furest away”

    A quick FOI shows that those cars sure are being regularly used. Oink Oink

  • Drumlins Rock

    Alex, were MLAs approached individually or was it just a generic letter sent out?

  • cynic2

    Be fair…it was in that gap between the Easter holidays and the may bank holiday so what’s an MLA to do?

    And many of the wee buggers attending have no idea of the realpolitik of power sharing and Government. They might therefore ask awkward questions that require the simultaneous engagement of more than two brain cells,. An MLA might even be required to stand, drink coffee , answer questions and think at the same time. A bridge too far

    Above all many of them don’t even have the vote and when they get it they will vote for the people their Ma and Da do too so its a waste of my time

  • BluesJazz

    Just an aside, but why is Translink a public sector monopoly transport provider? Does this happen anywhere else in the UK? If it’s about to make a colossal loss, despite a monopoly provision, someone needs to be asking serious questions.

  • I think the last thing young people need is to be patronised and frankly I cant see how attending such a gathering with young people seemingly as young as 15 (if they cant all vote in our next election) would be anything other than a very patronising thing to do.
    Obviously Mr Huston is right….young people dont have cars……any access at 15 would be illegal but they are not exactly unique in not having cars.
    Many adults cant afford cars.
    Many adults (myself included) no longer drive.
    But on the bright side my bus/train pass arrived today (not to be activated for a week or so) which actually now means I am on a par with these young people with their bus passes.
    I trust no Translink driver will be unpleasant to me.

    Frankly I see little value in these Youth Parliament/Forum type things. If theres one thing worse than young people being patronised……its when they dont even realise they are being patronised.

  • BluesJazz

    Question 1. Why are the partners and children of Translink staff allowed free transport, whatever their age? A nice (tax free) benefit as well as gold plated final salary pensions.

    Question 2. Why is the CEO of this small regional public sector monopoly paid a £200k annual salary?

    I could go on…..

  • fitzjameshorse –

    I am sorry but it is with the deepest respect that I must strongly disagree with your opinions on the input of young people. Correct me if I am mistaken, but you are saying there is no use in Youth Parliaments or Forums. Does that include the SDLP Youth Conference you attended a few weeks ago? I would argue that was a very valuable event with some interesting panel discussions, from accounts I have read.

    I would argue that this is a valuable means for our MLAs to not only gauge the views of future voters, but to ensure they are looking out for the interests of a disenfranchised group whom they represent. Furthermore, considering some of the complaints that older generations may have about about the culture and drive of those who come after them, I think that any attempt by interested and determined young people to engage in debate on the public issues of the day should be commended. I would also argue that there are several MLAs who will happily engage with young people in a non-patronising manner, and I can speak from experience of having organised such an event for young people such as myself, albeit of a voting age.

    Some further thoughts I have blogged on a new generation, if anyone is interested – http://bit.ly/KhuDGC

  • Drumlins Rock

    Question 3.

    Why are well off not so old bluffers like FJH given free passes?

    Jazz, the problem with NI is its too small for anything other than a monopoly in many areas, and monopolies should be state owned. Pluss it is being subsidized that much the state pays for it so therefore should control it.

    But, the system cant go on like this, it has to be at least part privatised, and the numbers subsidized reduced.

  • No Chris, I am saying the exact opposite……or rather out of politeness trying NOT to say it.
    I have blogged about that Conference but only made aside references to it here. For what its worth that was an excellent conference because it was real. And Im sure young Unionists, Ógra Sinn Féin and young DUP are also making a contribution.
    But the thing is….they are real.
    It would be inappropriate and impolite to give my real view on Youth Forum and especially Youth Parliament.

  • Right I get your point Fitz.

    Although I would still argue they are a positive thing, there are problems and I think I get the issues you are driving at.

    Principle and practice…

  • Drumlins Rock……My bus pass was NOT free. It cost me £5 to get photographs.
    But I dont see how free travel can be removed from Translink staff without a strike. As I understand it this concession goes back years.
    Frankly old bluffers like me dont deserve a bus pass but what politician is going to remove it.? Presumably Im at least as entitled as anyone else.
    I didnt actually know that I was entitled to one at 60 (it still surprises me that I am) until about six months ago. Presumably even people who are 60, 61, 62 etc who are still working are also entitled to a bus pass…..which if they live in Bangor, Newtownards, Lisburn, Carrick….and work until 65 ..in Belfast is a nice tax free benefit. And actually worth a few grand a year.

  • Exactly Chris.
    If I get a chance I will comment on your blog to make it clearer.