Larne YMCA members quiz first citizen on topics ranging from mental health to paramiltaries
Mid and East Antrim Mayor Peter Johnston was in the hot seat last week for a question and answer session with members of Larne YMCA’s M-Power project.
Councillor Johnston was questioned on a range of issues from mental health to paramilitaries by the youth group during the informal event at All Saints Church Hall, in Craigyhill.
The 30-year-old DUP councillor told the group that he became mayor through the party’s selection process after he put his name forward.
” I have always had an interest in politics probably since university,” he said.
“As I got older, I took an interest in my local town. I would have been quite critical, the first person to say there is not enough available, so I decided to join our party,
“It was just a way for me to get involved to have a say and to meet other elected representatives for the area. Though I was critical about the town, I wanted to do something about it.
“One of the things I enjoy about being mayor is that every day is completely different. It can be seven days a week.
“With Covid, a lot of appointments are very last minute. It is hard to plan.”
The first citizen dismissed the possibility of a second term of office saying:”To run again as mayor, without doubt, I can say no. I have got a one year shot at it. I will give as much as I can, so that by the end of the year, you are exhausted and can do no more.”
One of the issues the mayor was asked about was climate change.
He said: “We will address climate change as an entire borough. We will look at things we can do as a borough and in Larne.”
He indicated there have been 300 household referrals for energy efficiency schemes and the council is “trying to support” the transition to electric cars in the future.
“One of the challenges we are going to have as a country and borough is to make sure we have enough infrastructure in place.”
The mayor was also asked what the council is doing about paramilitary activity in Larne.
He said: “Paramilitary activity, thankfully, is certainly declining. We have seen throughout all of Mid and East Antrim and across Northern Ireland, it is on the decline. That is a good thing.”
Noting declining support for paramilitaries in the community, he added: “It is not the sort of thing people are turning to now, particularly among young people who are not seeing that as an attractive thing to get into. It is no longer something that is a club to get involved in.
“As a council, we have a few different avenues to help address that, working in partnership with the police and Department of Justice, working with different community groups.”
He explained this is being done through a collaborative approach to stop young people getting involved in paramilitary activity “in the first place.”
Turning to other issues, he reported a rise in anti-social behaviour among young people across the borough since the start of lockdown and what he described as “quite a significant spike in anti-social behaviour”.
When asked about the mental health of young people, he said: “If we are not going to treat it seriously now, it will be a pandemic in itself.”
He said he believes more funding is needed to address the issue.
He noted that the council can act as a facilitator and work with specialist agencies on mental health.
He acknowledged a “stigma” surrounding mental health but emphasised that it is “perfectly fine to get help” and urged everyone to “always reach out” if they need help.
The mayor had a query of his own for the group. In reply to a question from the first citizen on what young people would like to see in Larne, the resounding response was a skate park.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter
Click here to read: YMCA programmeto ‘m-power’ youth
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