Good morning everyone! Welcome to NICCY.

We are delighted to host this event and to have you all visiting our office today.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in young authors and artists competition.

The time and dedication put into these pieces of art and writing is clearly evident.

If you haven’t already taken the time to view these works please take the time to do so; you’ll not be disappointed as you read some of the wonderful stories and view the various pieces of art.

This project is an opportunity for children and young people who are deaf and who face many barriers in communicating with others to feely express their opinions and thoughts through the arts. 

In terms of barriers, I’m particularly aware that you are people not deaf people – labels don’t help us understand each other. The famous actress, who is deaf, Marlee Matlin said: 

At some point we have to stop and say, There's Marlee, not, There's the deaf actress. 

I do not believe that you, or any person who has a disability should be labelled, but sometimes they may need additional support so that they can be regarded as a person, not a label.

In fact the legislation which created my office specifically extended additional provisions for people with a disability. Where a person has been in care or has a disability I can act on their behalf, unlike other children and young people, up to they’re 21.

All of my work and that of the office is guided by the UN Convention on the rights of the Child (UNCRC), which contains specific articles relating to the child’s freedom of expression.

Article 12- allows a child to express their view in matters affecting their lives. Article 13- provides that all children have the freedom to look for information. The UNCRC applies to all children equally, including children and young people who have a disability.

My job is specifically to promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of Northern Ireland’s children and young people.

Part of that is about challenging Government to make sure that it actually does what it is meant to do for children and young people and raise awareness of the issues that face them.

Last year staff from my office spoke to over 2000 children and young people across Northern Ireland - including young people from NDCS - to decide our priorities for the next three years. Having your say is one of these priorities, in particular looking at ways to ensure that the voices of marginalised children are heard.

Over the next three years my office will be working on different projects to promote the full implementation of article 12 and embed participation structures into all levels of government.

Encouraging all government departments to ensure that they not only consult with all children and young people, but also help them take part and give due consideration to their opinions when developing policies and practices is key to that.

This will require government to develop mechanisms for communicating with deaf children and young people, and indeed all children with disabilities.

Once again I congratulate you all on your hard work and wish NDCS best wishes for the future. You are doing sterling work for deaf children and young people.

I applaud your efforts.

I hope that the organisation continues to go from strength to strength, building on the great projects that you currently run.