Minister holds round-table talks with children and young people's sector
Sinn Féin Junior Minister Gerry Kelly held round-table talks with key players from the children and young people's sector today.
It was the first time such a meeting had been held with an Executive Minister to discuss the main issues facing the sector.
Mr Kelly said:
"I wanted to hear firsthand what the crucial issues are facing our young people today and to give their representatives the opportunity to raise directly with me their concerns as well as hopes for the future."
Hosted by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, the Ministerial meeting was held with almost 30 representatives who met earlier in the day to discuss their top priorities before presenting them to Mr Kelly.
"Face-to-face discussions of this kind are invaluable. The views of the voluntary sector are fundamental in shaping government policy for children and young people," explained Mr Kelly.
He also called for common measures to protect children from sex crimes, abuse and bullying should be introduced across Ireland and Britain. Mr Kelly said:
"We are very much for making sure that child protection is at the core of all of this and we want to take an all-island approach to it and also an east west and European approach.
"The issue is too important to be looked at alone and we have already raised this with the different regions and countries and we continue to do so."
A recent Assembly debate raised concern that paedophiles were not subject to the same level of monitoring in the Republic of Ireland, leaving children in Northern Ireland vulnerable. He added:
"The UN Convention of Human Rights is the basis on which to move forward."
"This was our first meeting, it was very helpful because it was very focused and we were agreed to continue so that the sector can help us and we can help them in terms of their needs."
Mr Kelly added that he wanted to set up a group involving a number of ministers to address children`s issues.
Concluding Mr Kelly said:
"I will now take all their comments forward to my colleagues to ensure their views, which are vital in determining the way forward, are heard.
"Improving the lives of our children and young people is a responsibility we take very seriously. Joined-up governance including partnership between Government and the voluntary sector is the key to improving the lives of our children and young people."
The Minister also expressed his thanks on behalf of the Executive for the valuable contribution made by the voluntary and community sectors in relation to children and young people.