CAIN: Democratic Dialogue: Politics: The Next Generation (Report No. 6)

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Politics: the next generation

The following publication has been contributed by Democratic Dialogue. The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

Politics: the next generation
Report No. 6

by Democratic Dialogue (1997)

ISBN 1 900281 05 8 Paperback 100pp

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Democratic Dialogue
Report No 6
April 1997

Democratic Dialogue
5 University Street
Belfast BT7 1FY
Tel: 01232-232230/232228
Fax: 01232-232228/233334
Web site:

©Democratic Dialogue 1997
ISBN 1 900281 05 8

Cover design by Public Communications Centre
Photographs by Lesley Doyle
Printed by Regency Press

Politics: the next generation


Introduction KATE FEARON
So what do you think? TONY GALLAGHER
Discussion and dissentPAUL DONNELLY
The long game BARBARA LOMAS
Conversations in clubland CLARE HARVEY
The future (I) RESPONDENTS
Old dogs, new tricks? FERGUS COMISKEY
Next generation, next steps KATE FEARON
Executive summary & recommendations
Notes on contributors


This is the sixth report from Democratic Dialogue, the Belfast-based think tank. DD gratefully acknowledges the generous support of its funders, including the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

It also acknowledges the generosity of the authors of this report, writing in a personal capacity, who gave enthusiastically of their time, experience and expertise. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of other contributors, or the management committee of DD.

Further copies are available from the address on the inside front cover, price £7.50 (£10 institutions, £4.50 unwaged) plus 10 per cent postage and packing.

DD aims to publish several reports per year. Readers may wish to return the enclosed subscription slip, to avail of reduced-rate payment for reports, free copies of DD's newsletter and notification of all DD events.

We are open to requests to organise debates or discussion groups around any of the themes or ideas raised in this, or indeed other, reports. Again, the contact number is on the inside cover, where details of our web site can also be found.

Our next report will cover a key theme at the heart of securing an accommodation in Northern Ireland - the challenge of embedding pluralism and parity of esteem.

[Report Contents] [List of Reports]


Kate Fearon

In the open question session at the end of the conference to launch Democratic Dialogue in June 1995, a challenge was thrown out: "I am a 23-year-old woman who is very, very interested in politics, but currently there is no political party in this state that I could vote for. That means I have no stake in my future. There is a group of people in Northern Ireland that have been largely excluded from politics or anything else that has happened in the last 25 years: young people. I want to know what you are going to do for the young people in Northern Ireland. Are you going to consult them?"

This report represents, in part, a response to that challenge. It is based on a research project which ran from February to April 1996. In the first phase 3000 questionnaires were distributed, at over 90 sampling points throughout Northern Ireland, to young people between 14 and 24. Student unions, the probation service, the Training and Employment Agency, schools, youth clubs and workers, education and library boards, community projects and youth wings of political parties all co-operated enthusiastically in their dissemination and return. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of all those who helped with this project. They all thought the project of value, and this was reflected in the responses to this and later phases.

After a primary analysis of the data, focus groups - one single-identity urban, one mixed-identity urban and one mixed-identity rural - were established to explore further the main themes emerging. Perhaps what was most striking was not only that each group readily engaged in sensitive discussion, but, independently, thanked the researchers for the opportunity actually to talk about politics in their own environment. This sentiment was further supported by the survey informants, best reflected in the expressed desire to 'learn about politics' in the core curriculum.

The questionnaire had two sections. The first comprised closed questions, while the second, non-obligatory, section invited open comment on each of four topics: the survey itself, the past, the future and the issues respondents deemed important. Roughly a third completed the latter part.

Tony Gallagher highlights the main quantitative findings, upon which Barbara Lomas elaborates, setting the debate within international practice on the teaching of politics in schools. Blanche Thompson and Clare Harvey outline policy and practice in informal education, arguing that, while models of best practice do exist, it is very much hit and miss.

Paul Donnelly evaluates the focus group discussions, drawing out the main themes in the context of the current political situation. He notes that the members of the discussion groups were politically sophisticated, and frustrated at their lack of power in the wider society.

From an adult perspective, Fergus Comiskey reflects on the challenges to 'grown-ups' which these findings present. Change must come from within, but is it too late to teach old dogs new tricks?

Interspersed with this analysis and comment run two long 'poems', each in two parts. Another, shorter, piece of condensed text sits in the centre of the report-a list of words which most frequently appeared to constitute important issues for respondents. The two longer 'poems' comprise the short comments of the 500 or so who opted to give an opinion under the headings 'the past' and 'the future'-which become their titles. The individual narratives have been grafted together only in terms of presentation: punctuation, spelling and idiom have not been altered.

These represent as authentic a voice as it is possible to hear of young people in Northern Ireland today. We hope you enjoy, and heed, what they say.

[Report Contents] [List of Reports]

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