Call for O’Dowd rethink scrapping of Youth Council

Education minister John O'Dowd. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Education minister John O'Dowd. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A proposal by the education minister to scrap a major youth support body has been slammed by unionist parties and trade unions as ignoring expert opinion.

The DUP has also said that John O’Dowd’s plans for the Youth Council are “going nowhere” as it “won’t receive the necessary legislative support” in the Assembly.

Yesterday, the minister announced that the Education Authority will “take over full responsibility” for the provision of all youth services funded by his department.

“I will be moving to put in place the necessary legislation. However, in the interim and with effect from 1 April 2016, funding for regional voluntary youth organisations will be administered through the Education Authority,” he said.

Mr O’Dowd added: “It is my intention to seek Executive agreement to the drafting of a Bill to repeal the Youth Service (NI) Order 1989 to resolve the administrative effect of the creation of the EA. The effect of this legislation will be to wind up the Youth Council. I am confident that the new working arrangements for Regional Voluntary Youth Organisations under the EA will provide the impetus for further improvement.”

The Youth Council provides support for the development of good youth work practice and facilitates collaboration between youth organisations.

DUP education spokesman Peter Weir described the minister’s plan as “a cynical exercise in kite flying that he knows is going nowhere,” and added: “It is disappointing that he has chosen to wait until the Assembly is no longer in session to make this announcement, presumably to avoid the criticism and opposition within the Chamber.

The Youth Council has an annual budget of £3.9 million, with 81 per cent going directly in grants to regional youth bodies such as the Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, Scouts and Girl Guides.

Mr Weir added: “The minister needs to think again, acknowledge that what isn’t broken doesn’t need fixing, realise that he won’t receive the necessary legislative support for his proposals and reverse this decision.”

Sandra Overend of UUP said the plan was a “power grab”.

She said: “This decision is wrong and short-sighted. It appears to me that there has been a concerted effort within the Department of Education to undermine and dissolve the Youth Council of Northern Ireland and make the new Education Authority the sole provider of support for youth work in Northern Ireland. Given that the education minister’s decision to wind up the Youth Council has to get the approval of the Executive, I would now call on the other parties on the Executive to speak up.”

Paddy Mackel of trade union NIPSA said the “overwhelming response” to the department’s own consultation, and advice from the education committee, was in favour of retaining the Youth Council as an independent entity.

Taryn Trainor of the Unite union called on the minister to reconsider his decision as it provides “a high quality, cost-effective service”.