On Wednesday 9th April 2014 as part of his historic state visit to Britain, President Michael D. Higgins attended a special gathering of young people from across Ireland and the UK at London City Hall.
The event was organised by Gaisce – the President’s Award and The Duke of Edinburgh Award, alongside the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Northern Ireland Youth Parliament, the British Youth Council, the British Foreign Office, and the London Mayor’s office.
The ‘Taking Charge of Change together’ event aimed to promote sharing and collaboration and to celebrate the leadership and contribution of young people in society. It showcased the Joint Award Initiative partnership between Gaisce – The President’s Award and the Duke of Edinburgh Award in Northern Ireland. Thanks to the partnership, young people in Northern Ireland have the option to receive either a Gaisce, an International or a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award certificate after completing volunteering in their community, participating in a physical activity, developing new or existing skills, going on an expedition and, for their Gold only, taking part in a residential activity under the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme.
The event was also attended by the President’s wife, Sabina Higgins, Tánaiste and Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Éamon Gilmore TD, the Irish Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP, the Irish Ambassador to Britain, Dan Mulhall, and the British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott.
Irish broadcaster Gràinne Seoige acted as MC at the event which included facilitated workshops and an outstanding performance by young Irish music act Seo Linn. Topics for discussion included employment, enterprise, music, sport, youth participation in politics and the development and promotion of the Joint Award Initiative. Participants from throughout Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain, including young Irish emigrants, shared their experiences and developed ideas for further UK-Ireland collaboration. These proposals were then presented to the President.
President Higgins was also invited to present an inaugural Youth on Board award sponsored by the British Youth Council to celebrate successful initiatives, with the first going to the Members of the UK Youth Parliament in Northern Ireland who held their first ever round of elections in 2012 and 2013, which were supported by all communities and politicians. The award was accepted on their behalf by Nikita Harkin from Derry/Londonderry who topped the poll and was subsequently elected by young delegates from across the whole of the UK, to the European Youth Forum.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP also addressed the participants, each of whom received a certificate of participation.