The Seanad chamber hosted a unique debate involving 16 secondary schools students this morning.

Last September, students were invited to apply with a written submission outlining why they would like to speak in the Seanad.

More than 350 students applied and today the 16 students from schools across the island travelled to Dublin city centre to address the upper house.

The students were asked to address the question: "Has the struggle for freedom, justice and equality been realised in Ireland's institutions, culture and society?"

Inequality in areas such as women's representation in politics, the gender pay gap, reproductive rights, housing and mental health were among the themes of the debate.

Caoimhe Halligan from Presentation Secondary School in Co Waterford asked: "Did you know that Ireland has never had a female Taoiseach? Or that out of the 158 TDs elected to the Dáil, only 35 of that number are female?

"Do you think this is acceptable? Because I certainly don't."

Minister of State John Halligan expressed pride after his granddaughter's speech and he praised all of the young speakers.

Mícheál Twomey, from Mount Saint Micheal, Co Cork, also focused on the issue of women's representation in Leinster House.

He said: "Let's imagine a table with five chairs representing the present Oireachtas. In 2018, just one of those chairs is occupied by a woman."

Joylaine Fajimiyo, from Scoil Chriost Rí in Portlaoise, agreed that gender inequality was still prevalent in our society more than 100 years after we celebrate women such as Countess Markievicz.

She said: "I strongly believe the solution to gender inequality is through the education of society.

"No one is born racist or gender biased. It is only taught. Therefore, we have to teach our children to believe that men and women are equal."

Some students did switch focus to other issues, such as homelessness.

Sophie Cummins, St Declan's Community College, Co Waterford, said: "Currently in Irish society homelessness is affecting 10,000 people. The housing crisis is clearly a woman's issue with our rate of female homelessness now that of other European countries.

"Women and children are forced to spend protracted periods in emergency accommodation."

She asked: "How difficult must it be to raise young children in a hotel room with no cooking facilities and no room to grow and play? One hundred years later, where is the justice, equality and freedom in that?"

Sharing her personal story with the Seanad, Monica Thorne, Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ, Co Limerick, said: "My father has taken on the task of my upbringing since my mother passed away when I was 10 years old.

"Even though he has done all the work, I have seen his value as a parent being valued less in society than that of my mothers.

"Boys and men in this society have been told over and over that they can't cry. That expressing their emotions will make them lose their masculinity. And then we wonder why so many people in this country are suffering from mental health problems."

After the debate, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Denis O'Donovan, and Senator Ivana Bacik, chair of the Vótáil 100 committee, who organised the event, complimented the standard of debate.

The 16 students to speak in the Seanad were:

  • Anna Ní Laoi, Scoil Chuimsitheach Chiaráin, Co na Gaillimhe
  • Caoimhe Halligan, Presentation Secondary School, Co Waterford
  • Clare McGloughlin, Santa Sabina Dominican College, Co Dublin
  • Ellen McMahon, Our Lady's Secondary School, Co Monaghan
  • Ellen Nugent-Campbell, Lismore Comprehensive School, Co Armagh
  • Emma Dolan, Loreto College Cavan, Co Cavan
  • Emma Whitney, Convent of Mercy Roscommon, Co Roscommon
  • Hala Heenan, Methodist College Belfast, Co Antrim
  • Joylaine Fajimiyo, Scoil Chriost Rí, Co Laois
  • Katelin Vaughan, Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Co Clare
  • Kate Rodgers, Magh Ene College, Co Donegal
  • Liam Coolahan, Athlone Community College, Co Westmeath
  • Mícheál Twomey, Mount Saint Micheal, Co Cork
  • Monica Thorne, Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ, Co Limerick
  • Sophie Cummins, St Declan's Community College, Co Waterford
  • Rachel Mellerick, Colaiste Na Toirbhirte, Co Cork