Ulster Unionist Party Leader Mike Nesbitt has called on OFMdFM to clarify its level of engagement with the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) in designing the draft strategy and consultation plan Delivering Social Change.
Mr Nesbitt, who is the chair of the Assembly’s OFMdFM committee, said:
“I am concerned at the confusion which appears to exist within OFMdFM on this important issue.
“At Assembly Questions yesterday (Monday), Roy Beggs asked junior Minister Jonathan Bell to advise ‘how OFMDFM has engaged actively with the Northern Ireland Children's Commissioner on designing the draft strategy and consultation plan’ Delivering Social Change?
In his response Mr Bell said:
“I cannot recall just how many meetings both junior Minister McCann and I have had in the recent period; at least three spring to mind …. We have had constructive engagement with the Northern Ireland Children's Commissioner both formally and informally in private meetings in our offices. We have used the evidence base that the commission has. We have talked to its researchers. We have talked to the heads of office in each of its fields”
“Mr Bell’s response runs somewhat contrary to the evidence presented to the OFMdFM committee last Wednesday where I asked officials why the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) was not consulted during the preparation of the document and received the following response;
“We had informal discussions but no significant pre-consultation with the commissioner. With hindsight, that was not the right approach … It was certainly not our intention to ignore her … I accept that we did not fully utilise and respect her position.”
“It is quite clear that both positions are incompatible. Either there has been “constructive engagement” as Mr Bell says, or the Commissioner’s position was not respected. Which is the case?”