Speech by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley at the St Mary’s Prize Giving

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, pupils and distinguished guests. I am delighted to be here tonight and celebrate your achievements with you. I believe that this is one of the most important nights in the school year – a time when parents, teachers and the community come together to recognise what our the pupils and the school have accomplished.

You should be extremely proud of the high standards that you have achieved for yourself and set for others to follow. These results are a credit not only to the hard work of the pupils but the efforts of all the school staff teachers and ancillary staff alike.

St Mary’s has been going from strength to strength over the past few years- giving young boys and girls from this area the best possible start in their life. Preparing pupils for exams but also giving them the skills to play their part in society- whether it is in further education or entering the work place.

Role of the Commissioner

As Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People 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 will 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.

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

Importance of CYP

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.

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.

WE have just completed a major piece of research looking at Children’s rights in Northern Ireland, over the past 4/5 months we have spoken to over 200 children and young people in Northern Ireland, to learn directly from them about their experiences of living here. The youngest child we spoke to was 2 and the oldest was 21. Why? Because at NICCY we believe that every child, from the youngest to the oldest has something to say, valuable views to share. Of course how we speak to children and young people differs according to age and ability, and it will come as no surprise to you that my staff got down on the knees with puppets and drawings just up the road from here in St Mary’s Nursery in Bellaghy to talk to the pre-school children, and at the other extreme, held interesting debates with care leavers in Dungannon. So why am I telling you this, simply because I believe that you matter, and that its important for you to take the opportunity to get involved, to share your views and to influence the world around you.


Some of you here tonight will be leaving St Mary’s behind to begin another chapter in your life going on to further education or starting work. Others will be continuing their path of education at this school. Wherever your future paths lie I wish you all every success.

Who knows some of you, may be the politicians of the future, or the Children’s Commissioner.

Thank you