Pupils from 29 schools across Northern Ireland recently visited Stormont to debate on two of the most important issues facing Europe.
The sixth form pupils, were taking part in the annual Mock Council of the European Union, representing countries and recreating the environment of a real Council of the EU meeting.
Now in its tenth year, the annual event is organised by British Council Northern Ireland and the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland and saw the students tackle two topical issues: foreign policy and youth unemployment.
Chaired by Jane Morrice from the European Economic and Social Committee, the debate saw the pupils question Turkey’s place in the EU, possible sanctions to be placed on Russia and whether Youth Guarantee Funds should be doubled to tackle youth unemployment.
One of the hottest topics of the day was whether or not the United Kingdom should have a referendum on its position within the EU.
Rathmore Grammar School from south Belfast, were there to act as the European Commission, putting forward objectives and priorities for action. They possibly had an easier time than the real European Commission, with all motions passed.
As it was the tenth year of the programme, there was also the addition of a very special prize – a trip to Brussels for three lucky pupils and their teacher.
By the luck of the draw, Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, who represented Bulgaria, came out as winners, and couldn’t wait to express their delight.
One of the pupils Clare Donald (17), who is studying Sociology as part of her A- levels, said:
“I’ve had an amazing day debating at Stormont representing Bulgaria, so massive thanks to both the British Council and the European Commission.
“It’s been great to look at things from a different perspective and learn how other countries in the European Union operate, especially in regards to foreign affairs. This has been an amazing opportunity, and I hope to possibly use my newfound debating skills in my future career.
“The icing on the cake was obviously winning the trip to Brussels - we’re all very excited and can’t wait to go!”
Speaking after the event, Colette FitzGerald Head of Office, European Commission Northern Ireland, said: "Northern Ireland's membership of the EU offers many opportunities to engage with other European countries on trade, the economy, education and culture. It is therefore crucial that young people in Northern Ireland find out about the European Union.
“The Mock Council provides an ideal forum for students to learn more about European issues and how the EU works in practice. We are delighted to be involved with this fantastic initiative which is celebrating its tenth year."
British Council Director, David Alderdice, also said: “In order for Northern Ireland to compete internationally we must continue to develop young people who are comfortable in the global marketplace.
“Programmes like the Mock Council contribute to that agenda and help young people develop skills that they will use as their careers develop. We hope these young people continue to avail themselves of international development opportunities as they continue their education The Mock Council is one such opportunity, and many other possibilities are available to browse at www.britishcouncil.org/study-work-create. “
For more information on the Mock Council or any other programme available through the British Council visit http://nireland.britishcouncil.org