Ireland's youngest EU experts are smooth operators

Meet Ireland’s youngest experts on the political, economic and cultural complexities of the European Union. And it’s all thanks to fruit smoothies.

Almost 250 students from three Cork primary schools became the first graduates yesterday of a novel six-week programme called My Big Friendly Guide to the European Union — the BFGtoEU.

Devised by Dr Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan, a lecturer in European politics at UCC’s Department of Government and Politics, the programme was designed not to sell the EU, but to develop awareness and critical thinking about the EU, about Ireland’s role in it, and about the advantages and disadvantages of being part of the club.

And fruit smoothies were used to explain the concept of the EU — with each country represented by a single piece of fruit which when blended together makes something different and tasty — but sometimes not to everyone’s taste.

The concept also helped explain the complexities of Brexit and the difficulties involved in leaving the club.

Quoting Hannah Arendt at the graduation ceremony at UCC yesterday, Dr Schön-Quinlivan said schools can’t prepare children for the adult political world unless children are ready to fully understand such a world and make informed decisions.

We are part of the EU. Whether you, children, decide to become a Nigel Farage, who was at the helm of the Brexit campaign, or an Emmanuel Macron, who believes we need an even more integrated Europe, is irrelevant,” she said.

“BFGtoEU is about starting a conversation on Ireland’s role in the EU.

“You like the way the club works? Great!

“You would like to change the club? Brilliant! But to do that you need to understand the rules.

“You want to leave the club? That’s fine but you need to make sure you understand what the club does and doesn’t do.

“This programme is about empowering you to make informed decisions to improve the world you live in.”

Violet Tiernan with Ryan Tubridy in Clonakilty for the Ryan Tubridy Show. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

Dr Schön-Quinlivan won a European Commission grant in 2017, and began to develop the programme with the help of Trish Collier, a teacher in Kilmurry National School.

With the help of further financial support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Cork City Council, the programme was delivered to classes in Kilmurry NS, Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers in Cork City, and Gaelscoil de hÍde in Fermoy.

RTÉ broadcaster, and more importantly for the young graduates, the Late Late Toy Show host Ryan Tubridy — who broadcast his RTÉ Radio One morning radio show from Clonakilty yesterday — took a detour from his Wild Atlantic Way tour to attend the graduation ceremony.

Adults have to come down to the level of children and look you in the eye to understand what you’re thinking and what you need,” he said.

“Children from around Cork are here today because that happened, and because you’ve been learning that life is all about difference and the key is sharing and being kind to one another.”

Dr Dr Schön-Quinlivan also pointed out that the EU is far from perfect and faces many challenges, such as the migration crisis.

“The point is that while we work together, argue and compromise, we can celebrate our differences,” she said.

“Seeing the children on the BFGtoEU programme trying to reach agreement as 28 distinct individuals was fascinating.

“The deeper point, and one that BFGtoEU promotes, is that Europe is not just political and economic — it is also cultural and it is about different nations living and working together.”

Yesterday’s graduation marks the end of phase one of the programme.

Dr Schön-Quinlivan now plans to develop a website with games, before establishing a Continuing Professional Development course for up to 100 teachers to participate in July 2019.

Meanwhile, after visiting Inchydoney beach and Garnish Island, and discussing the incredible opportunities for whale and dolphin watching off the Cork coast for his radio show yesterday, ‘Tubs’ is due to broadcast from Kenmare today, Roundstone tomorrow and Ballina on Thursday as part of the show’s fifth Fáilte Ireland-supported tour of the Wild Atlantic Way.


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