Future of Children's Commissioner in doubt
The future of Northern Ireland's Children's Commissioner has been thrown into doubt after it emerged that her contract has not been renewed only 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 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 will be retained.
The uncertainty within the organisation has been compounded by a 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.
The mother-of-five took office on January 8, 2007 for a four-year term. 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 she indicated that was partly due to issues in obtaining information from the commissioner's office.
“Ministers recognise the importance of this position and are considering all the information to help inform them on the matter of this appointment,” she said.
“While the process has taken longer than ministers would have wanted this was due in part to the need for the commissioner's office to provide necessary information.
“Ministers hope to be in a position to make an informed decision soon.”
A spokesman for the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People confirmed the issue of Ms Lewsley's contract had not been resolved.
“The process is still ongoing,” he said.