The Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin presided over the first ever sitting of the Northern Ireland Youth Congress.
More than 100 young people, including several from Newtownabbey, crowded into the Assembly chamber last week to take part in a debate on a range of key issues affecting their lives. They were joined by Junior Ministers Emma Pengelly and Jennifer McCann and MLAs from all parties.
The issues debated included the right of young people to participate fully in the democratic process, the introduction of anti-youth discrimination laws and the provision of adequate mental health services for children and young people.
At the end of the debate, the young people voted for the provision of better mental health services for children and young people as their campaign for 2016.
The Director of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, Glengormley man Chris Quinn, said: “This historic meeting of the Congress is another step towards the formation of a Northern Ireland Youth Assembly.
“We would like to thank Mitchel McLaughlin for listening to and accommodating the views of young people. He has gone out of his way to ensure that we have the use of the Assembly Chamber.
“For young people to be able to exercise their rights as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is something very special and something they are very passionate about.”
Mr McLaughlin, a South Antrim MLA, said: “I am delighted to preside over this debate where young people can speak about issues that concern them particularly. Use of the Assembly Chamber is rarely permitted for business other than plenary sessions but I wanted to do it for this event to highlight that the Assembly and our wider community should respect the views of our young people who are our future.
“I am particularly encouraged that one of the issues to be debated is that of ensuring that young people can participate fully in our democratic process—something that is crucial to building a more inclusive and dynamic society. It is my pleasure to facilitate this.”