Aishling and Niamh McWalter, both pupils at Mount St. Michael Secondary School in Claremorris, attended the meeting as representatives of Comhairle na nÓg (Council for Youth) - a group committed to tackling the issues of greatest concern to modern youth in the region.
These were identified by the McWalter sisters as mental health, underage drinking, a lack of rural transport and youth facilities.
There to hear the views of the young women were the Mayo Garda Division, Chief Supt. Tom Curley, a number of his senior officers, as well as the Mayo county manager, Peter Hynes, and members and officials of Mayo County Council.
They rightly pointed out that a lack of public transport in rural areas was resulting in young people having no option but to take up driving - a situation, which has led to many fatalities.
The lack, too, of recreational facilities was driving teenagers to drink and they highlighted the practise of youngsters smuggling alcohol into discos, particularly for functions for Junior Certificate students.
The young tipplers can be very creative in the manner they disguise the booze and the way they stash it in venues in advance of the functions.
Unfortunately, there is very little for teenagers to do so they are virtually forced to experiment with alcohol.
Chief Supt. Curley promised ‘every assistance’ to the Comhairle while the county manager, Mr. Hynes, said that the possible utilisation of underused facilities as meeting places for youth, such as schools which were closed from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. nightly, needed to be looked into.
This is worthy of consideration but there are possibly insurance problems to be overcome and caretakers or supervisors would have to be in place before the schools could be opened up in the evenings.
The success in Mayo of several No Name Clubs is an example of how youngsters can enjoy themselves in an alcohol-free atmosphere.
However, without the proper adult leadership and available meeting premises these clubs will not succeed.
The fact the concerns of the McWalter sisters have been aired in public at the JPC forum is a positive start.
Unfortunately, there will be no great strides in the near future to improve public transport in rural areas.
But as with the school buildings, surely the greater use of school busses outside of school hours and holidays should be examined.
Hopefully the debate will continue and something positive will come from it.
Machnamh na Seachtaine
Is fada cuimhne sean leanbh.
An old child has a long memory.