Belfast Telegraph

Doubt over Children's Commissioner

The future of Northern Ireland's Children's Commissioner has been thrown into doubt after it emerged that her contract has not been renewed just two weeks before it is due to expire.

Patricia Lewsley's four-year term in the advocacy role ends in the first week of January.

But it is understood the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) has not yet given the 53-year-old any indication whether she will be offered a new contract or even if the £75,000-a-year post itself will be retained.

The uncertainty within the organisation has been compounded by an ongoing delay in publishing the findings of an OFMDFM review of the commissioner's office.

As part of the budget settlement, the Stormont Executive is undertaking a separate wider review of all quangos in a bid to identify potential savings.

This exercise had prompted fears the Commissioner for Children and Young People could be axed or merged with other rights-based advocacy organisations.

Ms Lewsley, a former SDLP Assembly member for Lagan Valley, resigned from Stormont in 2006 to take up the new post.

The mother-of-five took office on January 8, 2007, for a four-year term, and at the time it was stated that she could be retained for another term.

Ironically, the doubts over the future of the Children's Commissioner have intensified just as Stormont passed legislation to set up an Older People's Commissioner in Northern Ireland.

An OFMDFM spokeswoman conceded the decision had been hit by a delay, but indicated that was partly due to issues in obtaining information from the commissioner's office.

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