Ireland’s two UNESCO Chair holders came together today to launch an innovative and exciting programme dedicated to improving the rights and well being of children and young people across Ireland. The Children and Youth Programme is an independent academic collaboration between Professor Alan Smith at the University of Ulster and Professor Pat Dolan from NUI Galway. In the coming months the Programme will initiate a debate on two key points – the value of a rights-based approach to the planning and provision of children’s services in both parts of the island, and the need for both governments to incorporate a stronger commitment to children’s rights in legislation.
Speaking today on United Nations Day, Professor Alan Smith, UNESCO Chair in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy at the University of Ulster stated: “As the two UNESCO Chairs on the island of Ireland we believe that the academic programme we are launching today will help to reinforce the notion that a strong commitment to children’s rights will have better outcomes for children and families across the island. As we see on a daily basis the most difficult part of any economic downturn is the fact that it is the poorest and the vulnerable who are usually most affected by financial cut backs. Consequently it is the children of those hardest hit by job losses and cutbacks to children and family services who suffer most.
We only need to look at the stark predictions being made by those who work in the front line services to see that this is the case. For example, the impact of welfare and budget cuts on increased poverty levels in Northern Ireland or the fact that today in Ireland, 18.6% of children now live in risk of poverty, and 8.7% already live in consistent poverty. A rights based approach provides stability and certainty of resource allocation and protection for the most vulnerable in times of financial constraint and cutback. As a constant it also requires that all government decisions take account of the rights of children, ensuring that no one falls through the gaps in monitoring processes or becomes a victim of shifting political priorities.”
Professor Dolan is Director of the Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, and holds the UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement: “We believe that there are clear signals the administrations on both sides of the border can send, not only to the international community, but to the next generation on this island, that they will be protected and nurtured, with certainty in policy making and reliability in service provision. The Northern Ireland Assembly has the power to pass legislation which will require every government department to take account of children’s rights in all policy decisions, as the Welsh Assembly has already done. Incorporating the UN Convention and the Rights of the Child and developing a rights-based approach to policy development could be one of the greatest single legislative acts undertaken by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive since its formation. Likewise, the prospect of a referendum in Ireland to include a clear and binding commitment to children’s rights in the constitution is a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity. Common sense concern for children and families should encourage everyone to support such a referendum.”
Professor Dolan added: “Over the next year we want to initiate a debate on how services for children and young people can be provided on the basis of rights. We hope to show that it is an approach underpinned by clear and consistent obligations that will cherish all children equally.”