It’s not everyday I get to meet An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and to take part in an Open Policy Debate- so yeah, Thursday past was a pretty amazing and empowering day for myself and my fellow Webwise Advisory Panelists. I was invited to attend an Open Policy Debate held by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin on Thursday 8th March. This opportunity was presented to me by Webwise Ireland, who I have been working with over the past several months, being a member of the Webwise Advisory Panelist and a SID 2018 Ambassador with them.
Due to the early starting time for the debate, myself, my mother and two of my fellow panelists enjoyed a wonderful stay the night before at the luxurious Carlton Hotel- only a short journey away from the debate venue in Kilmainham.
After a wonderful evening of relaxing and chatting to the other panelists- Cillian and Jane over dinner, getting ready for the day ahead of us, in the hotel we decided to catch 40 winks before an early rise at around 6.30am on Thursday morning. Just after breakfast and checking out, at around 7.30 am, the taxi arrived at the entrance of the hotel to transport the four of us to the Royal Hospital. The journey wasn’t too long considering the usual city traffic and we arrived in Kilmainham after 8am.
Upon arrival, we were taken back by the stunning setting of The Royal Hospital, an impressive building enclosing a beautiful courtyard. The historical significance of the building gave the debate a stronger sense of importance and it felt like the absolute ideal location for the day. From here, we were directed towards registration, where we got our name tags and an information packet each.
Right away, the four of us met up with Aideen, Tracy and Jane from Webwise and together we enjoyed a cup of tea and a catch up, whilst taking in the exquisite interior design of the venue. We got a chance to meet lots of different people from various different organisation and companies who were also in attendance at the Open Policy Debate.
Soon, we were approached by a photographer who informed us that An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, was on his way to the debate and the photographer wished to take a photograph of myself, Cillian, Jane and Lorcan with Leo Varadkar himself. We were absolutely thrilled- not only was the Taoiseach going to be at the same event as us, but now we were getting to meet him and have a photo with him! The photographer led us out front, where we were told to wait for Leo’s arrival.
Not long after, he arrived and we were invited outside. Here, Leo Varadkar took the time to shake hands with each and everyone of us, while asking us a bit about ourselves- like where we live and go to school.
I felt extremely privileged to meet both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Denis Naughen and both were such genuine and down-to-earth characters, who were interested in speaking to students like ourselves. We made sure to take plenty of photos with the Taoiseach and all the ministers who also took time out of their busy schedules to attend!
Following this, we made our way back inside where I was taken to the tech man to get my mic, seeing as I was to be on the first panel which was beginning shortly. I got a chance to meet the other people who were going to be on the same panel as me. After an introduction to the event from Leo Varadkar, Denis Naughten and Gail Kent, my panel’s discussion began.
Both of the two panels for the day were composed of people from various different organisations, however, we all had the common aim of discussing and debating policy on online safety and hopefully helping to make a positive impact on the action plan for online safety policy by the Irish Government.
Countless important views and opinions were shared among the panel, issues of all kinds in relation to online safety were highlighted. I was the only student on this panel, so it was interesting to hear things from adult perspectives- similarly it was interesting for the other panelists to hear what I had to say, being a child growing up with the use of the internet in daily life. It was a truly eye-opening discussion and was so rewarding knowing that everyone had the common aim of solving the problems discussed. Following my panel discussion, there was a table discussion at each of the tables, led by facilitators, including some other members of Webwise. The table discussions were a chance for the audience to share some of their views and come up with points that perhaps were not fully covered by the first panel and that were important to ask the second panel that would be commencing after a short break.
After the break, the second panel were invited to the stage. This panel also contained members of lots of different organisations along side my fellow Webwise Advisory Panelist Cillian Fogarty.
This time, the panel had the job of discussing points made by the audience during the table discussions and answering questions. Cillian made some excellent points, also from a student’s perspective. It was very empowering for Cillian and I to have the voice of the youth heard and acknowledged at such a prestigious event.
Throughout the day, the main conclusions reached were- there is an equal balance of responsibility for both education and industry in relation to online safety for the children, there must be an action plan for the government put into place in the very near future and all internet safety centers should work together to reach the common goal of a safer world for everyone online.
After the second panel discussion concluded, Miniser Naughten drew the event to a close with a reassuring and confident talk. He was delighted to see the interest in online safety from everyone there and an action plan will be put into place soon.
After the Open Policy Debate, we got a chance to personally speak to Minister Naughten. He asked us to keep in contact with him as he was very keen on keeping the student voice a strong factor in planning the action plan.
I had a wonderful day at The Open Policy Debate and really look forward to seeing all the brilliant online safety initiatives being put into place all over the country so that everyone in Ireland can use the internet as the great big world of opportunity it should be!