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FIRST PLACE: Marian Brosnan, Hazelwood College, Dromcollogher

“We don’t have oil wells, we don’t have gold mines, but we have you.  You are our future.”  These were the words of encouragement imparted on the 2011 BT Young Scientist hopefuls by Mary MacAleese at the RDS.  Scanning the exhilarated faces of these perspicacious teenagers on the RTÉ news, one cannot fathom their expertise in innovation.

These intelligent, savvy young entrepreneurs have the right to apply for a tractor or moped licence, the right to consent to, or refuse surgical or dental treatment and the right to be held criminally responsible.  Irish 16 year olds, like myself have the previously mentioned rights.  Yet we lack what our rights derive from: a vote.  Why are 16 year olds not given the opportunity to cast their vote?  As a result of the media, we are conjured as a gang of “hoodie wearing joy riders.”  Is it any wonder people are dissentient to young people voting by this stigmatised image of hooligans?  The phrase “One bad apple rots the barrel” comes to mind as all 16 year olds are tarred with the same disparaging brush.  We may be seen as an encumbrance on society, but where would the world be without the likes of 10 year old Samantha Smith, who received the title of “America’s Youngest Ambassador” for writing a letter to the Soviet leader, seeking to understand why associations between the Soviet Union and the U.S.A were so tense;  Or Anne Frank, who at the youthful age of 14, documented her poignant tale in a series of diary entries, while hiding from Nazi insurgents during World War 2;  Or closer to home, Dana, who represented Ireland at the 1970 Eurovision and at the tender age of 16, attained triumph for our island.

16 year olds deserve a clear canvas, one free from the pernicious brushstrokes associated with robbery, assault and even murder.  Politicians represent various constituencies; presently young Irish people are no one’s constituency.  If young people are allowed to work up to 8 hours a week during the school term and pay taxes, why can’t they have a say in how this country is governed?  The ancient argument “No taxation without representation” applies to 16 year olds.

Why is it that some T.D’s make such a great deal over consulting young people about a local hurling pitch, but then ignore us when making a decision on education?  Surely, young people are entitled to their assertion?  Lowering the voting age to 16 will give us a real stake in our futures as active citizens of Ireland. 

In the meantime, we are passive spectators, watching our country drown in merciless, murky waters.  One might compare the predicament young people find themselves in to that of “The Three Little Pigs.”  As thriving piglets we set out into the big bad world to construct our cabins.  Of course, since we haven’t been given a taste of the real world before, we injudiciously erect vulnerable straw and stick cabins.  What happens next?  The perilous wolf arrives and blows our commendable efforts to nondescript pieces.  This is how 16 year olds of Ireland feel.  Our abilities are extensive; however, we are treated with disregard come election time.  Young people crave the involvement of constructing a durable, sturdy, brick house for our country.  Allowing us the 16 year olds to partake in shaping the blocks of our future will undoubtedly reconnect us with the community. 

Theodore Hesburgh, a priest who studied at the University of Notre Dame, upholds this philosophy: “Voting is a civic sacrament.”  How is it that young people are entrusted with the sacrament of Holy Communion at the age of 8, but remain in yearning for the independence of a polling booth until 18?  Teenagers are enlightened on democracy through the Junior Cert subject C.S.P.E (Civic, Social, Political Education).  If exam results are anything to reckon by, students have an ardent interest in politics.  The preponderance of Junior Cert students obtain an “A” with 55,540 receiving top marks in 2011, according to State Examinations.ie.  Unfortunately, the commencement of the senior cycle sees the cessation of this thought-provoking lesson.  Where does the political erudition of pupils disperse to?  Put sitting on an inconsequential shelf at the recesses of their mind to gather the mould of indifference.

According to the National Youth Council only 20% of young people have had a personal encounter with their local councillor.  It is evident that allowing young people to not only forget what they have learned, but in addition, allowing them to lose all awareness of their community is the risky tightrope our government is trekking across.

This tightrope is on the brink of snapping under the burdens of our youth.  Lowering the voting age will prevent 16 year olds falling through the administrative crevices.  The obstacle of young people not registering until later in life is minimised by their registration while still in secondary school.  The statistics don’t lie as an alarming 71.2% of 18-25 year olds are registered to vote, according to the National Youth Council.  The remaining 28.8% feel apathy towards what we actually get away with calling a democracy.  Disenfranchised and misrepresented, it’s no surprise to discover that in 2010 alone, less than 28,000 Irish people emigrated according to Business and Finance.ie.  Where did the seanfhocal “Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí” dissipate to?  Placed on the back burner to bubble away to incinerated morsels.  And by the time it’s taken off the heat, it’ll be too late. All that will remain is what once was an auspicious recipe for Ireland.

Young people are a valuable resource and are the finest hope for Ireland’s future.  To reminisce on Mary MacAleese’s inspiring words, Ireland may not have “oil wells” or “coal mines” but it does have the infinite resource of the young, who will provide the buoyant energy of the future.  We must use this precious resource to reconnect our community.


Marian Brosnan’s essay won because we felt that it made the most compelling case. It was persuasive AND credible. She appealed to our sense of reason and our emotions, supporting her ideas with good examples and employing some sophisticated argumentative strategies.

One of the things that made this a first-place paper and distinguished it from the other papers was her rhetorical skill and her framework, or the way she organised her ideas. The paper has two parts, it seems. First, she defends against claims that 16 year olds are not worthy or capable by pointing to a number of 16 year olds who were more than worthy and more than capable, in some cases more worthy and capable than many of us ordinary people ever become. Then she switches modes, giving us statistical evidence from State.Examinations.ie and the National Youth Council.

Marian begins her paper by recalling Mary MacAleese’s words at the 2011 BT Young Scientist award ceremony: “We don’t have oil wells, but we have you. You are our future.” She pits this sentiment from MacAleese against a backdrop of the oft portrayed media image of sixteen year olds as ‘hoodie-wearing joy-riders’.

Marian cites examples young people who are models of good citizenship: “…where would the world be”, she asks, “without the likes of 10 year old Samantha Smith, who received the title of ‘America’s Youngest Ambassador’ for writing a letter to the Soviet leader, seeking to understand why associations between the Soviet Union and the U.S.A were so tense, or Anne Frank, who at the youthful age of 14, documented her poignant tale in a series of diary entries, while hiding from Nazi insurgents during World War 2 or closer to home, Dana, who represented Ireland at the 1970 Eurovision and at the tender age of 16, attained triumph for our island?”

Marian argues by analogy: “…we are passive spectators, watching our country drown in merciless, murky waters.  One might compare the predicament young people find themselves in to that of ‘The three little Pigs.’ As thriving piglets we set out into the ‘big bad world’ to construct our cabins. Of course, since we haven’t been given a taste of the real world before, we injudiciously erect vulnerable straw and stick cabins. What happens next? The perilous wolf arrives and blows our commendable efforts to nondescript pieces. This is how 16 year olds of Ireland feel. Our abilities are extensive; however, we are treated with disregard come election time. Young people crave the involvement of constructing a durable, sturdy, brick house for our country. Allowing us, the 16 year olds, to partake in shaping the blocks of our future will undoubtedly reconnect us with the community.”

Marian returns to her initial inspiration, the words of Mary MacAleese, to appeal to the wider community to engage “the infinite resources of the young” by embracing their capabilities:

“Young people are a valuable resource and are the only hope for Ireland’s future. To reminisce on Mary MacAleese’s inspiring words, Ireland may not have ‘oil wells’ or ‘coal mines’ but it does have the infinite resource of the young, who will provide the buoyant energy of the future. We must use this precious resource to reconnect our community.”