20 May 2004

Speech given by Barney McNeany, Chief Operating Officer, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People at the opening of NIPPA (Northern Ireland's leading early years organisation) AGM and conference on 20th May 2004 at Radisson Roe Hotel Limavady.

Lady Mayoress, honoured guests, Ladies and Gentlemen -

Thank you very much for asking me here this evening to open your Conference.

Before I begin can I pass on a message from Nigel Williams, the Commissioner. Nigel, who unfortunately cannot be with you today due to illness, sends his apologies and his best wishes for the conference.

We at the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People ~ NICCY for short, are very interested in pre-school provision and particularly in the work of NIPPA.

As some of you will know NIPPA helped us get started! When Government decided to honour one of its commitments to the United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child by creating the Office of the Commissioner it was as a direct result of lobbying from groups such as NIPPA.

And as an organisation you say what you mean AND mean what you say. There were many individuals and organisations that told the children and Young Persons Unit that very young children couldn’t take part in a consultation. NIPPA said they could.

NIPPA proved that pre-school children could not only take part in a consultation, but that they could actively participate and contribute in a real, meaningful way to that consultation making their views known about what sort of champion NICCY should be and how they should be involved in our future work.

And believe me, when your job interview involves facing children as part of the panel of people that are recruiting you, it’s very real and very meaningful!

So in some ways you could say that I’m only speaking to you here tonight because of the help and support of organisations such as yours and your belief in children’s rights.

Since I am here, it is only right that I explain a little about the role of the commissioner.

Some might indeed ask why do children and young people need a commissioner just for them?

The Office of the Commissioner for Children and Young People, as the name suggests, is about promoting and safeguarding children’s rights. Of course that is easy to say but what will NICCY do?

We are seeking to put this remit into action through three core activities:

  • Firstly, Dealing with Complaints from individual Children and Young People on issues where their rights and best interests are not being properly served
  • Secondly, Undertaking Research and Reviewing Services for Children and Young People and finally
  • Finding new ways to involve children and young people in decisions that affect their lives and in promoting their rights to wider society

In other words ~ Safeguarding and Promoting the rights and best interests of Children and Young People.
Thankfully we are not alone in this very important work. Organisations such as NIPPA are working hard to protect and promote the rights of children, provide them with high quality services and involve them in decisions that affect their lives.

This is apparent in all of the work NIPPA is doing and your excellent annual report sets out clearly another busy, exciting and innovative year of achievement. By the way I am also glad to see another convert to the balanced scorecard format, it certainly adds clarity to your annual report.

The opportunities that NIPPA has accessed are tremendous. To gain the international insights from Albania, Belarus, and further afield is tremendous, and I commend your work in preparing to host the International Working Forum in Belfast in November this year. Delegates attending will undoubtedly be impressed by your work.

I am also, personally, very aware of the hard and dedicated work put in by those who work in pre-school provision ~ day in ~ day out. I have to be ~ my wife Marie, who works in Carrick Pre-school in Burren Co Down leaves me little choice in the matter ~ believe me you have a very strong advocate for the pre-school sector with the Office of the Commissioner.

As she is part of the team that recently underwent and thankfully achieved NIPPA accreditation for Carrick Pre-school, I am very well aware of how NIPPA as an organisation is setting and maintaining quality standards in the pre-school sector.

And as an organisation you are wide ranging in your innovation. Shortly after taking up my post with NICCY in February, Nigel, in his unique style, put his head around my door and asked me to come to his office to meet Siobhan and Senior Executives from the Peace Initiatives Institute.

I was very impressed to see the advertising campaign that NIPPA undertook on equality and diversity issues. Of course, there are those that say these are big issues that children can’t grasp.

NIPPA’s efforts have shown that not they can not only grasp messages but absorb and act upon them.

The impact Jenny, Jim, Kim and Tom will have by prompting children to ask their parents questions about race, disability and discrimination is potentially tremendous.

At NICCY we too are grappling with some very big issues affecting children’s lives. We are at the point of commencing work on our priorities for the next three years.

To help us get started and to focus our work we have asked Queen’s University to undertake a major piece of research to help us understand some of the things that we should prioritise.

The research also will examine how Northern Ireland matches up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – a document I note that NIPPA fully endorses.

We will publish the results of the QUB research in October and begin consultation on our strategic priorities by asking NIPPA and a wide range of other organisations for their views on how we should proceed. Most importantly we will be guided in this process by the views and wishes of children and young people.

Not that we haven’t been busy already! We have dealt with more than 135 complaints from children and young people where they believe their rights and best interests have not been respected.

We are also about to launch a major review into child protection vetting arrangements in Northern Ireland, to ensure that we, in Northern Ireland, learn from the inquiry set up into the tragic events in Soham.

These are just some of the ways the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People is working for children, putting children first.

NIPPA has a deserved reputation as an organisation that is forward looking, firmly rooted in sound principles and best practice and your programme tomorrow for the conference reflects this. NICCY supports the work of NIPPA and will continue to do so by lobbying for support for providers in the voluntary sector, such as yourselves who provide the early learning that makes a real difference, the foundations, to the lives of children and parents!

I wish you well for your conference and hope you all enjoy the evening’s entertainment ahead. Thank you very much…

Barney McNeany 
Chief Operating Officer Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People 

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Barney McNeany, Chief Operating Officer, Office of the Northern Ireland Commissioners for Children and Young People and the Mayor of Limavady, Councillor Anne Brolly (R) endorse NIPPA's new annual report with Siobhan Fitzpatrick (L) , Chief Executive, NIPPA ­ the Early Years Organisation at the opening of NIPPA's annual AGM and Conference 'Early Learning ­ Foundations For The Future'.