Bangor Grammar School students set the EU agenda at Stormont

Last week students from Bangor Grammar joined 27 other schools from Northern Ireland and Ireland to gain first hand experience of the cut and thrust of international politics at the sixth mock Council of the European Union. The debate took place in the Senate Chamber in Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Organised by the British Council and the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland the mock Council sets out to recreate the environment of a real Council of the European Union meeting. The Council of the European Union is the main decision-making body of the EU and brings together Ministers from each of the 27 Member States.

Each of the participating schools represented an EU country with teams of three students taking on the roles of government ministers. Students from Bangor Grammar School represented Bulgaria. The simulation keeps as close to the actual meetings as possible where reaching consensus is the preferred outcome.

At the mock Council, the students debated and voted on topical issues such as the euro, climate change and combating poverty and social exclusion in the EU.

Shona McCarthy, Director British Council Northern Ireland speaking about the event: “The mock Council of the European Union provides students with an opportunity to think about and debate topical issues which increasingly affect us in Northern Ireland such as the challenges facing the European economy or the global debate on climate change. Students taking on the role of European Ministers, negotiated, debated and tried to reach consensus, highlighting the importance of cultural relations, diplomacy and dialogue in international relations. Skills which will be extremely important if Northern Ireland is to emerge as an internationally engaged place, benefiting from cultural and economic relationships across the globe.”

The mock Council involved schools from across Ireland from Dublin to Dungannon, providing a valuable north-south dimension to the dialogue. Where possible each school has been paired with the Consul or Honorary Consul of the country they are representing. This provided opportunities for students to find out more about their assigned country enabling them to participate fully in the Council meeting. Consuls have visited the schools in the lead up to the event, meeting the students and providing information and literature to help the students articulate the views of their country on the debate topics.

Students heard firsthand from the head of the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland, Maurice Maxwell, who says: "The EU has a big impact on Northern Ireland so it is important that young people get to debate important European issues and find out about the workings of the EU. At the mock Council event the students will get a taste of what it would be like to represent their Member State in an important European context.”