Ahead of the general election in February, politicians from seven of the main political parties visited The Ark for the Children's Hustings to speak with children and children's rights groups about the issues that affect them. Now, as Ireland still struggles to form a government in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, this blog about the day's events from Ark Children's Council member Olga Buckina is a reminder that whatever happens, we must continue listen to children's voices.
The Children's Hustings - 4 February 2020 at The Ark
In February, a few days before the 2020 election, some politicians representing their parties came to talk to us, tell us about their manifestos and to "listen" to us. They might have zoned out a bit from time to time, but I think mostly they did listen to us. I’d like to thank them for mostly listening to us, because I did not think they would listen to us at all. They exceeded my expectations. It must have been a very busy time for them and they choose to come to see us. For us it was a welcome day off school and also a fun event and a great chance to show that we have opinions.
First, they told us they were good humans, most of them were in the scouts, they told us that they did lots of things with and for children, they talked about their own children. Once we asked them questions, the conversation shifted a bit more to talking about the issues that were important to us. Some of them spoke about fairness and equality and spoke directly to us, which was good.
Beforehand, I had found it hard to come up with a question to ask but once I heard the politicians speak, lots of questions and ideas came flooding into my head. When the host asked if anyone had any questions, most of the children wanted to speak. Lots of children threw their hands up in the air. Many of them wanted to tell the politicians their opinion or simply make a statement about important issues.
I realised that children are smarter than people think. I would say, don’t expect children to ask immature questions. Don’t hope that children will ask funny questions that will give everyone a laugh. All questions, whether a bit silly, profound or very powerful, are important. Whether silly or powerful you should still listen to children. We are full of wisdom. Embrace it while you still can! We are not just interested in MacDonald's and Pokemon. Some of us wanted to discuss the Irish Constitution. Others wanted to discuss the budget for mental health services. Some children wanted a commitment on getting rid of child poverty and homelessness. There was a question from a girl who wanted to be a paediatrician - she asked if politicians would be cutting the budget in education to make up for the overspend on the Children’s Hospital. This just shows the diversity in our opinions.
I would like to give some advice to politicians:
Listen to us.
One day we will be ruling, and we can get rid of your pension if we want too.
- Olga Buckina, member of The Ark's Children's Council, age 12
The Children's Hustings event was jointly organised by the Children’s Rights Alliance, The Ark, Barnardos, ISPCC, SpunOut and Young Social Innovators.
It was attended by Richard Boyd Barrett of Solidarity-People Before Profit; Labour Senator Ivana Bacik; Green Party councillor Patrick Costello; Fine Gael candidate Deirdre Duffy; Social Democrats councillor Tara Deasy; and Fianna Fáil councillor Deirdre O’Donovan.