Launching a new Oireachtas Essay Competition, Aiste an Oireachtais, the Ceann Comhairle said that “populism and polarisation” were threatening “to overwhelm societies and endanger people’s wellbeing.”
“Democracy itself looks fragile in the places where we thought it was most deeply rooted,” Mr Ó Fearghaíl said.
“In wars and conflicts we see the failure of politics to secure peaceful solutions to conflicts. In the disparaging comments you hear about politicians and political parties there is, sometimes, an indefensible cynicism. But – sometimes – it is the voice of people who feel genuinely let down, the voice of disappointed hope, that we hear.”
The Ceann Comhairle said it was vital to secure “the interest and engagement of young people” in order to have “healthy, functioning democracies”.
‘Parliamentary Politics Matters’ is the theme of the new Essay Competition, devised by Independent NUI Senator Rónán Mullen with the support of the Oireachtas Education Unit. Students north and south (Senior Cycle and AS/A Level students) will be invited to submit essays in Irish or English and to compete for a prize fund of €4,000.
The Competition will be run on a special website which will issue a numerical code to competing students to ensure anonymity in the judging process. Students will be asked to register by 15th November with the final date for submitting entries being 8th December.
Eason is the principal sponsor of the Competition with educational publishing companies CJ Fallon and Folens giving associate sponsorship.
The Ceann Comhairle paid tribute to Journalist and Broadcaster Sean O’Rourke who was guest speaker at Thursday’s launch. “In his career as a Journalist and Broadcaster to date, he has done so much to make politics relevant, vital and interesting to our citizens.”
The launch was was also addressed by Ms Geraldine Delaney, Principal of Palmerstown Community School and a member of the Competition Judging Panel.
“This competition is a very valuable tool in opening up debate, increasing interest and awareness in our national parliament,” Ms Delaney said. “It is surprising that it is only now being introduced in 2022.”
“Democracy needs the wisdom of the old but it also requires the idealism and enthusiasm of the young,” she said. “When you empower the youth and future of our world you give them the tools to bring about change and to break cycles that have caused problems in the past.”
“Many people wonder about the quality of our politics and the future of democracy itself,” said Senator Mullen. “We hope this Competition will stimulate interest in the political process and help each student to find their role in our democratic system.”