NI Children’s Role For Politician

A leading SDLP assembly member is to quit politics in order to take a job as champion of children’s causes in NI. Lagan Valley MLA Patricia Lewsley is to become Children’s Commissioner. She replaces Nigel Williams, who died earlier this year following an illness.

The SDLP’s equality spokesperson has to step down as an assembly member and councillor, and must also resign as a member of the party. She told her party of her intentions to take the £75,000 a year job on Friday.

Mrs Lewsley, who plans to take up the office in the New Year, said her past record “speaks for itself”.

“This is about doing what I do currently in a different way,” she said. “As commissioner for children and young people, I will be a powerful, influential and independent voice for all children and young people. I will be there to represent their interests, to protect their rights and to challenge all those who work with and for children to do better.”

The appointment is for four years, with the possibility of being renewed for a further period of four years. The selection process included being questioned by a panel of eight teenagers aged between 14 and 18.

Education minister Maria Eagle said Mrs Lewsley had come through a rigorous process. “I have the confidence, and indeed children and young people should have the confidence, that she will take it, mould it, make it her own and, in doing so, will successfully promote and safeguard children and young people’s rights and best interests,” she said.

Barney McNeany had been serving as commissioner on an interim basis following the death of Mr Williams. In 2003, Mr Williams was the first person to be appointed commissioner.