Young people given rare chance to debate in assembly
More than 100 young people crowded into the Northern Ireland Assembly chamber to take part in a debate on a range of key issues affecting their lives.
Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin presided over the first ever sitting of the Northern Ireland Youth Congress.
Participants were joined by junior ministers Emma Pengelly and Jennifer McCann as well as assembly members from all parties.
The issues debated included the right of young people to participate fully in the democratic process, the introduction of anti-youth discrimination laws and the provision of adequate mental health services for children and young people.
At the end of the debate, the young people voted for the provision of better mental health services as their campaign for 2016.
"This historic meeting of the congress is another step towards the formation of a Northern Ireland Youth Assembly," said Chris Quinn, director of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum.
"For young people to be able to exercise their rights as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is something very special and something they are very passionate about."
Mr McLaughlin said he was delighted to preside over a debate in which young people could speak about issues that concerned them.
"Use of the assembly chamber is rarely permitted for business other than plenary sessions but I wanted to do it for this event to highlight that the assembly and our wider community should respect the views of our young people who are our future," he said.
Ms Pengelly added that the Northern Ireland Youth Forum was to be commended for supporting the congress and giving children and young people an opportunity to have their voices heard.
"The assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive takes to views of children and young people very seriously. Everything that these institutions do has an impact on them; their education system, their health service and their society. Their voices must be heard when decisions are being made that impact on their lives," she said.