Representatives from different schools throughout Westmeath attended at the Athlone Civic Centre last Friday for the launch of the Junior Mayor Initiative and the Arcadia Climate Action Awards initiatives.
Cllr Frankie Keena, who began the Junior Mayors initiative five years ago, said this year there are seventeen schools representing both the primary and secondary sectors with new entries from St Mary’s Primary School in Athlone and St Joseph School from Chateaubriant in France getting involved. Chateaubriant is the French city twinned with Athlone, and last Friday a classroom at St Joseph’s was beamed in live to the Athlone Civic Chamber, who also saw the Athlone launch live across satellite on their own screen.
“The main objective of the Junior Mayor initiative is to give young people a voice and to inform students about the importance of democracy and the workings of local government,” said Cllr Keena, who is also Athlone Deputy Mayor.
He welcomed the Junior Mayors and their families and teachers to the chamber and said that the main objective of the initiative is to give young people a voice and to inform students about the importance of democracy and the workings of local government.
The Deputy Mayor introduced the Junior Mayors of the various schools on the day and reiterated that the initiative is to give young people a voice. He also introduced Athlone Mayor, Cllr. Vinny McCormack to the gathering.
“We want to hear from young people and to see you link in with your peers in the school about litter on the roads for example, and pass on things to myself or Mayor Vinny McCormack,” said Cllr. Keena. “It’s all a learning curve and you may not get the answer you want.”
He said some of the problems could have financial or engineering issues, but that students would get a response back from the council. He talked of the importance of local government and briefly told the students about the happenings of the chamber.
Cllr. Keena also encouraged the Junior Mayors to talk about gender and equality in Local Government and the importance of young people voting after they reach eighteen years of age.
“It doesn’t matter who you vote for, as long as you cast your vote,” he said. The young Mayors agreed about the need for more female politicians, and Cllr Keena said that new candidates are needed but also said that it’s a daunting task for many to get involved.
“It’s a cool thing to be a Junior Mayor and I hope you enjoy it, and to represent your school,” said the Arcadia Retail Park Manager, Fiachra McLoughlin, while addressing the Junior Mayors.
Referring to the Arcadia Climate Action Awards initiative, Mr McLoughlin spoke to the students about the importance of businesses being environmentally conscious and sustainable.
“There are two different competitions, one for primary schools and one for secondary schools and we look forward to seeing your projects and the culmination is next March,” said Mr McLoughlin. “It’s fantastic that we have a secondary school from France entering our competition, which we are delighted to see.”
He said there are three judges of the competition – Duncan Stewart, tv personality and environmentalist, Therese Kelly, Conservation Ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Noel Gavigan, consultant in sustainability.
Mr McLoughlin called on Morgan Fagg, who works with him at the Arcadia Retail Centre to speak to the students. Morgan is a well-known Athlone environmentalist.
“I’ve met some in the schools involved in this and I’m really impressed with the projects and I never made it to this chamber, so I’m jealous to see you all here,” said Morgan jovially.
Morgan ran unsuccessfully in the Athlone Local Elections in 2004. “You all have a voice here and this is going to be open to you all, but there is one thing missing here, I have brought along some trash – a little gift for all of you to think about,” he said.
Morgan then walked around the chamber and distributed pieces of plastic wrapping to each of the Junior Mayors. “This could last thousands of years if you want, but it’s something to hold onto for a moment and think about,” he said. “That’s what the Arcadia Awards are all about.”
He highlighted Cornamaddy National School, and held up a reusable mug, which the school created last year.
“There is potential in what we have seen of the projects,” said Morgan. “I’m looking forward to working with you all on this and really want to thank Cllr. Frankie Keena for starting this.
Athlone Mayor, Cllr Vinny McCormack thanked the gathering for turning up in the chamber on the day, and also particularly praised Cllr. Keena, for his work with the Junior Mayors.
“He has worked closely with all your predecessors, and really hears what you guys have to say, and feeds it back to our nationally elected politicians,” said the Athlone Mayor to the Junior Mayors.
“The climate theme is probably the No 1 concern that you all have. Ask questions of us and the national politicians and let your voices be heard.”
Mayor McCormack said he thought the Junior Mayor initiative was brilliant and wished it had been there when he was going to school.