The Northern Ireland Youth Forum’s first 40 eventful years has seen its members meet everyone from former First Lady Hillary Clinton to global pop superstar Justin Bieber.
Formed back in 1979 during the Troubles, the Winter of Discontent and the beginning of the Thatcher era, the NIYF has been providing a voice for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in Northern Ireland for four decades.
During this time, it has met with Presidents. Prime Ministers and provided input to high level negotiations such as the intensive talks conducted by former US diplomat Richard Haass and Megan O’Sullivan in 2013.
The present NIYF Director, Chris Quinn, the fourth leader of the organisation, said its many projects had helped bring young people from very diverse community backgrounds together in a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect.
Mr Quinn, speaking at a special 40th anniversary event at its headquarters in Berry Street, Belfast, said: “These remarkable young people are an example of how people from different traditions can work together to create a better society. Many of these young people, who may have not met except through the NIYF have made friendships that will last all of their lives.”
The NIYF has been instrumental in promoting the rights of young people and providing opportunities for many who have been failed by the education system. Most recently it has provided university courses to young people affected by homelessness.
In 2011 it was awarded the first ever MTV Voices Award along with Justin Bieber when Belfast played host to the MTV EMA (Europe Music Awards).
Some of the highlights of the past 40 years include:
- Setting up of the NIYF Youth Congress
- Presentation to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
- Votes at 16 Campaign
- Equal Marriage Campaign
- Age Discrimination Campaign
- Establishing Close links with Stormont officials and departments – including regular presentation to committees
- Fight to Unite projects – including a study visit to the Maré Favela in Rio de Janeiro
- Attendance at the World Youth Festival Portugal in 1998 (NIYF delegation joined with 15k young people from around the world) Street Law Inc Study Visit – Washington DC – 1999
- Trips to Muskoka Woods Youth Camp in Ontario for world class leadership programme
- Invitation to Obama visit to Belfast at Waterfront Hall
Many past members have gone on to contribute to society including Brian Smyth – Belfast City Councillor Green Party Member; Conor McGinn – Labour MP for St Helen’s North, Stephen McGlade – Head of Deputy Leader of Sinn Fein, Michelle O’Neill’s Office and Susan Morgan – Ulster University Lecturer in the School of Sociology and Applied Social Sciences.