A Longford man is behind a new initiative aimed at getting secondary school students to engage with Ireland’s political system.
Johnny Fallon from Newtowncashel, who is a well-known political commentator and author, launched ‘Pop Politics’ last month and he has been taken aback by the response from schools.
“There’s been a huge reaction. The diary is full for March, and there are only a couple of dates left free in April,” he revealed.
Explaining how he came up with the idea for Pop Politics, Mr Fallon said, “My wife is a teacher and so is my sister, and I’ve had a lot of conversations about politics with teachers. They say it’s hard to get students interested. They cover it a bit in CSPE and in Transition year, but they don’t really get to experience it.
“Politicians also say that the understanding of politics should also be done at school, but even though everyone agrees, nothing was being done about it. Young people are detached from politics and they need to be engaged.
“I decided to do something which makes it fun and entertaining. I want to get them to see politics in a different light.”
Mr Fallon explained that the workshop lasts up to two hours and consists of three sections.
“What we do is we divide the students up into uneven numbers within a ‘village’ structure. It’s something they can identify with as the strategy of setting up villages is used in computer games such as World of Warcraft.
“They then have to begin trading with each other, which means they have to develop currency, then they find out they need laws and that they will need someone to make them.
“Through that, they begin to see the value of having a system in place.
“The idea of having a leader will then develop, and a king will be chosen, but this won’t be to everyone’s liking so democratic rule is introduced. The kids then select candidates to form a council, and then we enter the next section, which is the election.”
At this stage, the groups will get to experience the proportional representation system of voting in action.
“There’ll be large groups running a few candidates, other large groups running just one candidate to avoid splitting the vote, and smaller groups who will be relying on transfers.
The students will do as people do at elections and break the rules, which is what we want them to do in this case,” Mr Fallon continued. “Their best mate could be in another group, but they’ll vote for them, and some may spoil their vote.
“The excitement starts with the counting of the votes. We have tally people and counters, and we have a spreadsheet set up on a big screen so everyone can keep track of the results. It really does give a taste of what it’s like on count day, before moving onto the third section where the elected representatives have to go through the process of choosing who they want to go into government with.”
Mr Fallon admits he’s changed his mind on a few issues since he has started working with students.
“I’m now in favour of dropping the voting age to 16,” he says. “From talking to the students, I’ve found that they’re very opinionated on issues and that they do want to participate. When they think about voting they take it seriously and they’re quite considered in their decisions.”