Many thanks for your invitation to speak here today. I always enjoy having the chance to meet young people face to face. I also want you to know that I really appreciate the fact that you have given up you Saturday to come along here today to ‘Have Your Say’

Role of the commissioner

As Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People my job is to:

Promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of children and young people so that they can challenge and change the world in which they live.

But also and here’s one of the really important bits of my job - - - to give children and young people in Northern Ireland a voice.

And that’s all children and young people up to 18 in Northern Ireland. No exceptions. No exclusions.

I can also work on behalf of young people up to 21 in two special cases – disabled children and young people who have been in the care system.

In doing my work I must have regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UNCRC.

The UNCRC is a list of 42 promises made by governments from almost all countries in the world to children and young people. Some of these promises include the right to education, equal treatment and the right to an opinion.

And it is my job to make sure that Government here is keeping these promises for children and young people.

Importance of Children and Young People

Young people should be valued for the important contribution that they make to society. I hear people so often say ‘children are the future’ but I believe you are the present and you should have all you need to play and active part within society now.

The purpose of ‘Have Your Say Day’ was to give children and young people the opportunity: -

  • To speak openly with other children and young people about the issues they are passionate about
  • To find out more information about the issues
  • To express their views in real conversations with decision makers

I want to congratulate the organisers today as I truly believe that young people like you should have the opportunities to take part in making decisions at all levels of society, from the home to the Northern Ireland Assembly - you should have a say in the decisions that affect you.

One of the greatest ‘perks’ of my job is having the opportunity to meet and talk to children and young people - to find out what they want me to do for them. Not only is it a perk but a privilege to spend time with children and young people. I believe it’s essential to hear what issues they face and what they want me to do as their commissioner.

During the summer, my team and I carried out a major piece of research into children’s rights. In the space of three months we spoke face to face with over 2,000 children and young people in schools and youth organisations across Northern Ireland. This research was used to determine my priorities for the next business plan.

Thursday week ago, I launched a major consultation exercise on those priorities and I know that once I finish, you will be using the Quizdom technology to tell me what you think my office should be focusing on.

I just want to give you a sneak preview on one of these priorities though:

Children and young people, parents, professionals and all rated giving children a voice as among the top priorities I should focus on.

And, in the UNCRC, this is asserted as a ‘right’.

At NICCY we believe that every child, from the youngest to the oldest has something to say, valuable views to share.

As Charles De Gaulle, the French general and statesman once said…”politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians”

So why am I here today, and in fact why did I apply for this job….?

Simply…it is because I believe that you matter, and that it’s important for you to take the opportunity to get involved, to share your views and to change the world around you.

Thank you