Press Release: UNICEF Child Advocate to meet Taoiseach

12th December 2023

UNICEF Child Advocate to meet Taoiseach on the impact of economic disadvantage on children’s education 

18-year-old Nathan Dunne calls for increased supports for economically disadvantaged students  

#KidsTakeOver is part of UNICEF’s World Children’s Day celebrations

 

DUBLIN – November 22nd, 2023 – UNICEF Youth Activist Nathan Dunne is set to “take over” the Taoiseach’s Office today, as part of UNICEF’s World Children’s Day #KidsTakeOver campaign, which began on World Children’s Day, November 20th.

This will mark the 7th annual #KidsTakeOver of the Taoiseach’s office by UNICEF, which provides a young advocate with the opportunity to meet the Taoiseach in his office to discuss key issues and shadow some of his key engagements throughout the day.

This year’s #KidsTakeOver candidate is Nathan Dunne, an 18-year-old, fifth-year student from Ballymun, a community he is immensely proud of. Nathan is actively involved in his school and community groups and is passionate about education, which will be his key area of focus in his meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar later today.

As a student of a DEIS school, Nathan is acutely aware of the additional challenges faced by students coming from low-income areas, which can make it harder for them to complete their education and fulfil their full potential.

In his community, Nathan has met peers who have left school early and not completed their education due to a myriad of factors, including a need to begin contributing financially to the household, a lack of engagement in the school community and prohibitive school costs like schoolbooks, school uniforms and the “voluntary contribution”.

While Nathan recognises the positive initiatives provided by his school like Breakfast Clubs and free lunches, he is advocating for tailored supports to help bridge the gap of disadvantage to communities which he fears are being “left behind”.

Among Nathan’s key recommendations to help address some of these challenges will be an extension of the free schoolbook scheme to Senior Cycle students, the development of a programme to address school-leaving, increasing opportunities for third-level HEAR schemes and Access programmes, a review of the “voluntary contribution” and the creation of professional opportunities in disadvantaged areas.

For Nathan, investment in education and jobs within disadvantaged communities would not only empower inhabitants to improve their financial positions, but would also lead to a better, fairer and more equal society.

Speaking ahead of his visit, Nathan said:

“I’m really looking forward to meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to discuss issues that are really close to my heart and learn more about the role of An Taoiseach.

“Coming from an economically disadvantaged area, I see the unique challenges faced by my friends and peers when it comes to education, which place them at a significant disadvantage when compared with counterparts in more well-off communities.

“I am really proud of where I come from and the amazing community spirit of my friends and neighbours and would love to see bespoke supports developed to deliver equal opportunities for them when it comes to education and career choices.” 

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said:

“I am delighted to welcome Nathan to the Taoiseach’s office for the annual UNICEF Kid’s Takeover. This is a really special and unique opportunity for children to be represented at a political level and for politicians to listen and learn from them about the issues facing children and young people.

“Passionate young advocates like Nathan give us all hope for the wonderful things our future generations will achieve.”

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About Nathan

Nathan is 18 and has lived in Ballymun all his life, a vibrant community which he holds dear to his heart. Currently in 5th year, when he’s finished school he would like to study to be a Teacher or a Scientist. Economics and Biology are his favourite subjects.

Nathan is an only child and lives with his mam. His Dad died before he was born, so it’s been just the two of them since then. Nathan and his mam originally lived in the flats in Ballymun, before they were moved into housing in the area. For Nathan, his mam is his “inspiration”.

Nathan is actively engaged in his local and school communities. He does boxing three times a week, attends his local youth group, plays basketball and is an active member of the Religion Group and Mental Health Group at school, while also working hard on projects like “Stand-Up” week, which aims to educate on and celebrate LGBTQ+ people.

Nathan is passionate about education. To him, it holds the key to all future opportunities. As a student of a Deis-School, he is acutely aware of the additional challenges students from disadvantaged areas face in the pursuit of education. Costs like schoolbooks, uniforms and the “voluntary contribution” can act as barriers to education for Nathan’s peers. Nathan knows six people from his community who have already had to drop out of school due to prohibitive costs and the need to contribute financially to their family homes.

Nathan recognises the good things about his school; the Breakfast Club and lunch at 11am are helpful for students, but he feels the supports don’t go far enough. He has concerns about his community and the people in it being “left behind” and feels additional services and supports around school leaving, third level education, graduate job creation and adolescent mental health could help to bridge the gap of disadvantage and help the community of Ballymun to fulfil its full potential.

He would love to see more STEM jobs available to people in his area and to shatter stereotypes of people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.ie

About World Children’s Day

Since 2017, World Children’s Day has been UNICEF’s global day of action for children, by children.

20th of November marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It is a day that highlights critical issues affecting children’s lives and the engagement of children and young people as advocates for their own rights.

World Children’s Day is UNICEF’s largest annual global activation, with 190 countries taking part in 2022.

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