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Steven Agnew: Bill will put children at the centre

By Steven Agnew

Published 19/10/2015

Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland
Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

I was proud to be elected as an MLA to serve the North Down constituency, as I thought I would be able to work to make a positive difference to people's lives, both there and across Northern Ireland.

Not that long ago, I sat in the Assembly chamber until late into the evening. Debates on welfare reform and planning were lengthy, as they should be, to ensure that a broad spectrum of opinion was put forward.

Contrast this with the current situation. Ministers are absent, sometimes. Question time is short. Bills have fallen. The Assembly has risen early in the afternoon due to no debates.

However, it's not all bad news. Those of us on the back benches continue to work to bring forward legislation.

For example, John McCallister has brought forward his Bill to create an official opposition and Jim Allister continues to bring forward legislation regarding special advisors.

In particular, I am looking forward to the final consideration stage of my Children's Bill, which is designed to bring about a statutory duty on all Executive departments to collaborate and work together in the commissioning and delivery of children's services.

It will enable the education and health sectors to pool resources so that, for example, a child who uses a wheelchair will be able to access the physiotherapy that they need in school without any argument over budget allocations.

The child will be put at the centre of decision-making. In short, it will help ensure that our children are afforded an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.

I am pleased that the Children's Bill has received cross-party support. It shows that it is possible for MLAs to work together.

Up until now, I have been working with OFMDFM to ensure that I bring forward a good, effective Bill.

Under the current political circumstances that has proved difficult, although I continue to engage with each of the parties individually.

I am determined that legislation as important as this should not fall by the wayside. We should not waste any opportunity to bring about positive change for our children.

Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph

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