26 Apr 2005

Speech given by Barney McNeany, Chief Operating Officer, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People , to launch the Media Initiatives for Children - Respecting Difference on 26th April 2005.

Honoured guests, Ladies and Gentlemen -

Thank you very much for asking me here this morning to the launch of the Media Initiatives for Children ~ Respecting Difference.

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. He and the rest of the team at NICCY are fully supportive of this fantastic initiative and he wishes to pass on his best wishes for this launch and your forthcoming work on the initiative.

Early in 2004, whilst I was still working at the Equality Commission I was preparing for my move to NICCY. Nigel came in to my office and asked me to come and meet Siobhan and colleagues from NIPPA and the Peace Initiatives institute. They showed me the cartoons and the materials for the Respecting Difference Campaign and I must admit that I was and remain an immediate fan.

The Office of the Commissioner for Children and Young People, as the name suggests, is about promoting and safeguarding children’s rights. Our mission, which is derived from the Commissioner for Children and Young People ( Northern Ireland) Order 2003 is to

Safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people by listening to them and working with them to challenge and change the world in which they live

In October 2004 we launched a period of consultation on our Corporate Plan and on our Priority Area for Action.

We believe this was a very successful consultation. We received more than 1600 formal responses, of which more than 800 were directly from children and young people. We had some expert assistance in this process as NIPPA undertook a consultation with the under 5s on our behalf.

The results from this consultation have led us to adopt 15 key priority areas. These can be grouped into 6 key areas:

  • Implementation and Civil Liberties
  • Education
  • Play and Leisure
  • Health, Material well-being and the environment
  • Family Life and alternative care
  • Youth Justice

You will see that many of these priorities overlap with the launch this morning of this initiative. It will help children and young people understand their rights, it will help children and young people who are being bullied or who are suffering bullying because of their disability or special educational needs, and it will help children and young people to be better protected and safeguarded.

The legislation setting up all four UK Children’s Commissioner’s offices requires us to have due regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely approved international rights standard.

The UNCRC is clear about the issue of discrimination:

  • Article 2 
    You have the right to protection against discrimination on the grounds of your colour, sex, religion, economic status, language or if you have a disability
  • Article 29 
    You have the right to an education which encourages you to respect other people’s rights and values…

Government in NI is also clear in its aims to eradicate discrimination relating to children and young people;

R Wrld 2 the 10 year draft strategy from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister sets out clear targets for this work:

  • Ensuring that the rights and needs of children and young people are reflected in the implementation of a Racial Equality strategy, a Gender Equality strategy
  • Formal and informal education curricula will fully reflect and promote statutory obligations and rights and responsibilities in relation to equality and diversity
  • Monitoring of the implementation of the UNCRC

And the good relations strategy in the making ~ Our Shared Future recognises the need to engage with children and young people:

  • Every child should leave school with a direct and sustained engagement with diversity……
  • To make a real impact it is essential that this work tackles the reality of living in a divided society….

The reality however is somewhat different.

One of the first pieces of work NICCY undertook was to commission a major review of how NI compared to the UNCRC. This excellent work can be found on our website, www.niccy.org.

It clearly found:

  • Widespread Bullying of Traveller Children & Children with Special Educational Needs in mainstream school
  • Schools do not have to have an anti-racist, anti-sectarian or anti-homophobic element in their Bullying policy
  • Widespread need for innovative strategies for dealing with Bullying such a peer mediation
  • Increase in Hate Crimes

We have just recently had published the Report of the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee:

  • The Challenge of Diversity: Hate Crime in Northern Ireland, 14 April 2005

This was very clear in its findings

Education is the most important area for action in the field of community relations generally and, in particular, a means of combating the underlying causes of hate crime.

NICCY’s remit extends to reviewing the adequacy and effectiveness of the law, policy and services to children and young people.

As part of this work over the next three years of our Corporate Plan we intend to pursue the issues at the core of this excellent initiative; the education of children and young people in rights and diversity.

Thankfully we are not alone in this very important work. Organisations such as NIPPA and the PII 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.

The impact Jenny, Jim, Kim and Tom, the characters in this fabulous resource, will have by prompting children to ask their parents questions about race, disability and discrimination is potentially tremendous and we in NICCY are pleased to see the pilot is producing positive outcomes. You will continue to have our support for this excellent work.

Thank you very much.