Speech by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley at the Down Lisburn Trust Public Speaking Competition

Good Evening ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for inviting to me to open tonight’s public speaking competition

And I hope you won’t judge my public speaking skills too harshly!

I am delighted to see so many young people here, all of whom have put time and energy into preparing for the event.

Preparation, as I’m sure you all are now well aware, really is the key to communications. Communications is based upon sharing meaning. Part of my job as Commissioner is about making sure that children, young people and their families know what I do, and what I can do for them.

Role of Commissioner

My job is described simply as:

Promoting and safeguarding the rights and best interests of children and young people to help them challenge and change the world in which they live. But most importantly – 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 as you may know is a list of 42 promises made by governments from almost all countries in the world to children and young people, including the right to education, equal treatment and the right to an opinion.

Emotional health and wellbeing

The issues that are presented tonight pose challenges to me as a commissioner and to society as a whole.

For example suicide – this year in Northern Ireland we have been shocked and stunned at the high numbers of young people, most in their teens who are taking their own lives. These are young people who so desperately needed help but could not access it.

Bullying, Relationships, Discrimination these are all issues affecting the lives of our children and young people and that’s why I am delighted to be here tonight to listen to you discuss these issues.

The opinions and concerns of our young people should be listened to by adults, especially when we are developing services that will directly affect their lives.

At NICCY we have a youth panel that has a real say in advising me not only in my work but in how my office works for young people. They are involved at all levels in the office, working along side the research team as trained peer researchers.

And if an adult wants a job at NICCY – they’ll find themselves quizzed by a young person! A young person sits on every interview panel.

We actively promote meaningful participation of our youth panel in all projects undertaken in the office. It is amazing to watch a young person grow in confidence and self esteem as they are able to play a more meaningful role in making decisions.

As you prepare to communicate in your address I would like tonight to be about listening to the young people; hearing their views, their opinions and I hope that you all learn a little more about public speaking and the sharing of meaning.

Good luck to everyone taking part.