News Archive

Northern Ireland Leads the Way

Posted on Friday, September 01, 2000

CYWU was the only trade union represented at the recent major Conference on the future of the Youth Service. This reflected the dramatic growth and concern of Northern Ireland over the last year and the Branch’s desire to be involved in all of the relevant trade union and professional forums. Dave Proctor and Doug Nicholls were in attendance also along with Northern Ireland Branch Chairperson Tommy Dallas. A fringe meeting of new and potential members of CYWU was held during the conference and plans were set for another year of activity.

Doug Nicholls commented: “This was a very heartening Conference indeed. Not only does the Department of Education Northern Ireland have a deep commitment to ensuring future investment in the Youth Service and an understanding of the crucial educational and social role of youth workers, but the Minister for Education gave what must rank as one of the most positive Ministerial speeches on the Youth Service ever given on these islands.”

In fact one of the first decisions of the new Assembly was to activate a report following a review of the service and to elect a new Youth Council for Northern Ireland. The review was more thorough going and positive than anything we have seen in England and made some dramatic proposals for the development of the Service. The most dramatic were mainly structural and proposed a new central Youth Service Agency working directly to the Assembly and cutting out the Boards (Local Authorities). Such changes have not been agreed. But some professional and important changes are being promoted.

Northern Ireland employers undermine JNC.

In Northern Ireland JNC is filtered and watered down by a functional council and the training courses are endorsed by the Wales or National Youth Agency. Meetings will be held with JNC to try and sharpen this up and ensure

that youth workers in northern Ireland achieve the same terms and conditions as their ‘real’ JNC colleagues in England and Wales. A separate endorsement body will be conditional upon this development. For too long employers have cherry picked the JNC. They get their staff professional qualified but then chose worse terms and conditions for them. More thinking will be undertaken to integrate the increasing independent and voluntary sectors who are achieving more peace and reconciliation money but not necessarily the infrastructure to sustain long term development and good industrial relations.

More investment is needed to develop the excellent work done in northern Ireland to define the curriculum and effective practice and more work will be undertaken to improve the rather patchy RSA training in competences for part time workers.

Unsung heroes.

But detail aside, the Department and new Minster have created a very appreciative policy framework and positive attitude to the role of youth work. In his speech Martin McGuinnes, a former active youth centre member, gave as strong a personal and political and Assembly commitment to the future of the Service as anyone could give. Instead of seeing the service as linked to other agendas he saw it standing on its own two feet as interested in “the personal and social development of young people through participation in enjoyable activities” based on the three core principles of participation; acceptance and understanding of others; and the development of appropriate values and beliefs.”

Some of the cross community work being led by youth workers is amongst the best youth work practice in Europe. The maintenance of a good youth service over the thirty years of great troubles in northern Ireland cannot be underestimated. Youth workers were very often the only people allowed through the barricades on either side at the height of the troubles. Young people have found some safety and a lot of education of fun in their youth centres over the years.

Scale of the solution.

The Minister seemed genuinely surprised at the scale of the youth service. He said: “We have roughly 350,000 children and young people in compulsory schooling, from age 4 to age 16. Compare that figure wil over 188,000 young people who are involved in youth clubs and youth organisations - not entirely the sme age groups, of course, but in general terms something like half of all our young people....And for me, the most important point: they are involved vuluntarily...This fact demostrates two things: the huge responsibility we have for making quality provision that will engage young people and meet their wishes and needs; and the huge opportunity we have for influencing positively the lives of future generations.”

What the Minister was less aware of was the fact that these 188,000 young people are involved because of the efforts of a relatively small cohort of 179 full time professionally qualified workers working with 1,500 part time workers and 18,000 volunteers. This demonstrates once again the highly value added nature of youth work and the cost benefits of it. It also indicates how exploited and overworked full time staff have been and why investment in more full time posts is essential.

Martin McGuinnes and his Civil Servants gave a genuine impression of recognising the essential role our work plays in creating inclusive society, tackling social disadvantage and promoting positive community relations, “the Youth Service is perhaps best placed to innovate, to cross barriers, to move people forward.” He praised the role of youth workers in dealing with the “hard issues” of “identity,respect, rights, and equality.” He also gave a very positive statement about the need to involve young people as much as possible in all aspects of the political process.

In all, this Conference coming just a couple of days after the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly was one of the most positive gatherings the Youth Service has seen for many years. The hard issues of respect, rights and equality for the paid and volunteer staff within the service need to be addressed before the service can truly move forward. All the signs are that this will happen and CYWU Officers had positive meetings with employers throughout northern Ireland throughout their stay.

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