26 Apr 2005

Speech given by Marlene Kinghan, Head of Communication and Participation, Northern Ireland Commissioner For Children And Young People, to the NI Youth Participation Programme – Parliament Buildings, Stormont Estate, Belfast.

Children, young people, ladies and gentlemen – Hello!

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be involved in this wonderful launch.

Before I begin can I pass on a message from the Commissioner? Nigel can’t be with us tonight, but he has asked me to pass on his best wishes.

Some of you may have noticed there’s an election happening! Before I start can I ask a couple of questions to the children and young people here tonight?

Firstly, how many of you would want to vote if they could?

And how many wouldn’t want to vote if they could?

Now to the adults – Don’t worry I’m not going to ask you how you’re going to vote next week! But how many of you will be voting next week.

Well democracy is safe in the hands of the people here tonight!

But democracy is more than just putting an X in a box or a 1,2,3 beside a list of names. In fact democracy has implications that spread much, much further than many people realise.

Just to give you one example, whenever you put your X in a box you are part of a process that results in a Government of some sort. That Government sends representatives to the United Nations. And it was in the United Nations that almost all the Governments in the world helped to create and agree the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Everyone at the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People has a job to promote that Convention. And it is the Convention that clearly states the rights of children and young people.

Another example of how democracy can work is the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People being created! A lot of people campaigned to create the job of the commissioner. From ordinary people through to charities and voluntary groups they spoke to politicians – yes those people who get your X or your 1,2,3 – and explained why they wanted a commissioner.

As a result a law was passed that created the commissioner’s job and set out very clearly what the commissioner has to do. And the top thing the commissioner has to do is:

Safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people.

And those rights are clear in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child!

In that Convention there is an Article that says young people have to be asked about the issues that affect their lives – Article 12. There is also an Article – Article 13 – which says that children can gather information on the issues that affect their lives.

The commissioner, and everyone who works with him, has a role to let children and young people know that they have a voice, they are listened to, and their views are taken seriously.

But that doesn’t mean we’re a bunch of old people who talk about boring things all the time and write long boring documents. And hopefully I’m not boring you!

We want a lot of what we do to be fun and creative. Just because we are talking about very serious things doesn’t mean that there cannot be creativity. The artwork you will see shortly is a great example of how creativity can be used to deliver serious messages.

In fact we want young people to be involved in what we do – to participate in the work of the Commissioner. My job is to help that take place, and we have a Participation Manager who works to make sure children and young people can be involved in the decisions that affect their lives and in the work of the Commissioner.

We also have a Youth Panel which helps us in many ways – and tell us when they think we could improve.

And that is a point I would like to emphasise tonight. Democracy isn’t just about putting your X in a box, it isn’t just about writing 1,2,3, it isn’t just about listening to politicians. No. What it is about is taking part.

Everyone at the Commissioner’s office has learned that children and young people, when given the chance can become involved in our community in so many positive ways. They bring an enthusiasm to discussions, creativity to concepts and challenges to all of us.

Our community will grow with the help of that energy, through children and young people taking part, taking decisions, telling us what they think.

Before I unveil this artwork I want you all to remember that you can tell us at the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People what you think! Phone, us, write to us, email us, check out our website.

This artwork represents a voice for the future. This artwork represents the views and the feelings of young people. This artwork represents how young people want to take part. But most of all, for me this artwork represents young people’s desire to become involved, to speak up and to take responsibility for the world we live in. We at the Commissioner’s office will work with young people to challenge and change the world you live in; we will work with you to safeguard your rights, we will work with you to promote those rights – and I am grateful that you, through this artwork, are rising to those challenges.