Peter Neill Mencap NI Young people with learning disabilities from the Belfast area gathered together recently to ask a panel of local candidates questions about the issues that matter to them in the forthcoming general election. 

The event, held at the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast, was organised by 16 young people with a learning disability from Belfast and Omagh.

It was part of Mencap’s ongoing Hear My Voice campaign, which is about empowering people with a learning disability and their families to have their voices heard by their local MPs in Northern Ireland and candidates in the lead up to the general election. 

There are about 33,000 people with a learning disability in Northern Ireland but many feel they are not listened to by those in power. Crucially, they believe the the issues that are important to them –hate crime, better healthcare and education – are often not talked about.

The event also celebrated the successful completion by 16 young people of Mencap’s IT’s Politics, a 12-week programme on using ICT to engage with local politicians, funded by the Youth Council for Northern Ireland. The IT’s Politics project equips young people with a learning disability with the information, skills and confidence to make local political parties and their candidates sit up and listen to issues that matter to them through ICT and social media.  

Pete Neill (pictured), a 19-year-old with a learning disability from Greenisland, who spoke at the event, said; “I enjoyed taking part in the IT’s Politics project as it give me more confidence to speak out in a large group. I think it is important for young people to learn about their rights and their identity. I liked meeting new people and learning about their culture. I think it would be great to keep doing a project like this with more new people.”

Paschal McKeown, country director (acting) for Mencap in Northern Ireland, added: “Candidates [should] listen to young people with a learning disability and their families about the problems they face and the changes they wish to see.”