This learning game

This learning game

May 7, 2017 Blog 0 Comments
Tough Teachers! Mr Agnew, head of 6th Form and Cory welcome me to Wellington College

I went back to school this week — and learnt a lot.

To Wellington College, to be precise, an all-ability school for 11-18 year-olds in my South Belfast constituency.
And super young people they are too.
Razor-sharp, funny, courteous and genuinely interested in a different point of view, about 80 leaving year pupils put me through my paces.
The learning was mainly on my side though as I asked them to vote on a series of questions that I put so as to better understand the views of a young, predominantly Protestant and unionist audience.
And here’s what I learnt.
When a photo of Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster went up on the screen, I asked them to tell me who they thought was most responsible for the break-up of what they described as a political marriage. A handful blamed Martin, fewer thought it was a plague on both your houses. And this was the surprise for me: When asked, how many blamed Arlene, about 30 hands went up.
That took me aback.
There was more.
How many had been in Andersonstown – the sprawling West Belfast area where I grew up? I didn’t see one hand go up. Could any speak some Irish — a few hands went up though sadly no pupil has yet taken up the school’s offer of studying Irish at nearby Aquinas College.
A bit of work to be done yet in uniting this fractured city.
There was a majority for marriage equality, and many abstentions, but quite a good few votes against as well — which is a challenge I am sure the Love Equality campaigners will wish to take up.
There were more votes for the belief that there would be an Irish Language Act than there were supporters of the same but generally, if costs could be managed prudently, I didn’t sense any deep opposition to rights for Irish speakers.
There was no hidden reservoir of support for a United Ireland but a pupil’s suggestion of a Federal Ireland with a continued role for an Assembly and Executive in Belfast provided much food for thought.
But there was one question which brought forward a spontaneous and enthusiastic show of hands, the biggest and clearest majority of the day.
That question: ‘how many of you would vote against Brexit?’
Make of that what you will.
A million thanks to politics teacher Mr Agnew and head girl Cory for welcoming me to Wellington College. And a special thanks for not sending me back to the constituency office with any homework…or lines.

There were many ’trick’ questions for me too, including name three things you like about British culture. My number two was British Ska music – and I cited a song that not a one of the glorious young people had ever heard of it Free Nelson Mandela. (Let the record show, however, that they had all heard of Nelson Mandela). It certainly got me in form for skanking the night away at Friday night’s concert by Interskalactic as part of the magnificent Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.
Finally, I’m delighted that Gareth Maguire, founder of the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic, which will bring top US college basketball teams to Belfast later this year, is lined up to take his message that Sport Changes Life to the eighth annual New York-New Belfast conference on 16 June.

About the Author

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is the outgoing Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast and a civic activist in Belfast.