Two Year 12 students from the Archdiocese of Armagh have claimed top places in a national essay-writing competition on human rights.

Catríona McCoy from St Mary’s Grammar School in Magherafelt and Victoria Kinder from St Ciaran’s College in Ballygawley won second and third place, respectively, in the National Life Advocate Awards.

The annual essay-writing competition aims to encourage research and critical-thinking on human rights and right to life issues. This year students were asked to discuss the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr who said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”.

Catríona’s essay highlighted the importance of not staying silent on issues that deny others the right to life.

She wrote: “If we wish to see a positive shift in our society, then we have to ignite a passion for change in the world around us”.

Victoria’s essay drew attention to need to use our voices to speak on behalf of people who cannot speak for themselves. She made strong case for speaking up for the right to life of the unborn. It was these qualities that made her one of the 2017 winners.

She wrote: “I do acknowledge that an immediate change will not be achieved easily. Nothing will ever be achieved by ignoring the issue due to lack of concern”.

Commenting on girl’s essays Emma Sisk, organiser of the Life Advocate Awards, said: “We were very impressed by the high standard of entries we received from students all over Ireland this year.

“All the judges agreed it was very close between the top three essays which were all outstanding. Both Catríona and Victoria approached the topic with great maturity, compassion and understanding. It was these qualities that made them two of the top entries in 2017.”

The overall winner, Emma Dineen, a 6th year student from St Brigid’s Presentation Secondary School in Killarney was personally congratulated by a video message sent from Dr Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jnr.

Ms King said: “I believe the struggle for the right to life is at the very heart of the worldwide struggle for human rights. Today in the 21st century this is our greatest challenge”.

Kerry football legend Mick O’Connell surprised staff and students at the school’s annual awards ceremony when he arrived to present Emma with her award. He shared how the Life Advocate Award is close to his heart.

He said: “I myself have a boy with Down Syndrome. In various countries at the present time in England and Wales, for example, over 90% of children who could be born with the prospect of Down Syndrome are aborted prior to going to full-term. In Denmark they are aiming that no Down Syndrome child will ever be born in that country again. Currently in Iceland a child with Down Syndrome is not to be seen.

“My Down Syndrome boy Diarmuid was born in the 1970s and has been the greatest gift that has ever happened to me. He has brought wonderful delight to my life, even the very thought of him brings happiness to me.