26 May 2017

Statement from Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People:

"I read Ruth Dudley Edwards’ article in the Belfast Telegraph (Monday 15th May), “Brainwashing Seems to be an issue with young Irish speakers judging by TVs The Top Table”, with some interest which quickly turned into frustration.  Like her, I too had been encouraged by Stephen Nolan to watch the programme which I did - not because I lacked courage to say no to him but because I welcome any programme that gives young people ‘a voice’ and enables them to debate the issues that matter to them with politicians. 

What frustrated, no, angered me, was the suggestion posited in the article that the young people just spouted the opinions of particular politicians.  Ms Dudley Edwards reminded us that she had been on Nolan to discuss her opposition to lowering the voting age to 16, stating that she believes 16 and 17 year olds were “too hormonal” to vote.  Yet she described the young people on the Top Table as “impressively articulate” and “fearless in challenging their elders” posing “penetrating questions.”  So young people can ignore their hormones in front of the cameras and thousands of people watching at home but not in the privacy of the ballot cubicle?  All five of the impressive young people on the panel spoke with passion and commitment, surely this supports the case that the voting age should be lowered to 16!

I am baffled at the notion that young people should only have a voice if it’s contrary to certain political views. The young people from the band in Kilkeel and the Gaelscoil in Belfast were wonderfully articulate and compelling, and I was equally impressed by both groups.  The fact that Ms Dudley Edwards got the “creeps” listening to young people expressing their views is her problem not theirs. 

I often meet young people who challenge me on positions I have taken and I relish the ensuing debates with them.  I do not dismiss them as “puppets” of influential adults. 

I agree that the Top Table made a promising start and I am looking forward to the next programme.  Hopefully it will be aired at a time when young people can discuss a myriad of issues with our political leaders - at a time when they are governing!"