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Change in Northern Ireland

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Change can be scary, as anyone faced with a big decision will know. But it also creates opportunities. Following the recent elections, and after much political wrangling, Northern Ireland finally has a new Executive in place. There are changes, both big and small, so Action for Children will be looking out for new opportunities to make good things happen for children and young people.

A draft framework Programme for Government has been agreed by the Executive, which has identified 42 indicators to work towards. Many will impact on the lives of the children and young people we work with. We’re particularly interested in how the Government will:

  • Improve mental health
  • Improve support for looked after children
  • Reduce educational inequality
  • Increase the quality of life for people with disabilities.

The Government has also committed to achieving an ‘outcome’ for children, which we can really get behind:

 

We give our children and young people the best start in life.
Draft Programme for Government, Northern Ireland Executive

This aim will manifest itself in a number of ways, largely through policies and initiatives such as the new Children and Young People’s Strategy, which we are currently helping to draft. There may also be some legislation, but this is likely to be both rare and limited in scope.

This draft Framework Programme for Government has now gone out for public consultation, and the deadline for responses is 22 July 2016. Action for Children in Northern Ireland will be submitting a response to this consultation, sharing the views of our staff and service users.

As before, the balance of power lies in the hands of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein, who between them hold 66 of the 108 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

However, a new law now allows for an Official Opposition in Northern Ireland for the first time. Previously, the five largest parties in the Assembly all held posts in the Executive. Now, these will be held by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein, with one independent. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) will be Official Opposition parties but, confusingly, for the time being at least, they will not work together to provide shadow ministers or an alternative Programme for Government.

To make things even more interesting, The Alliance Party will no longer be in the Executive either, but they do not have the electoral strength to be classed as part of the Official Opposition. Instead, they will join the People Before Profit Alliance, the Green Party of Northern Ireland and the Traditional Unionist Voice as the “unofficial opposition”.

This will change the dynamic of politics in Northern Ireland, though none of us can be sure exactly how. It may mean more chances to get a new issue on the agenda, a new minister to persuade or new ways of working between parties.

We’re excited to be in at the start of this shake up of political decision-making in Northern Ireland. We’ll be making sure that the voices of children and young people get the airing they deserve as the debates hot up.

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