Children’s Law Centre Says: “Punishment Budget Must Never Happen Again”

22 January 2024

A legal challenge, taken by the Children’s Law Centre relating to the Secretary of State’s 2023/24 budget will be heard in Belfast’s High Court on Monday 22 January for a leave hearing.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, and in advance of the next budget setting process, the Centre’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager has warned that a repeat of the 2023/24 so called punishment budget cannot happen again.

Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Children’s Law Centre, said:

“The impact of the Secretary of State’s punishment budget was plain for everyone to see. The Children’s Law Centre, along with a wide range of other voices, consistently warned about the impact it would have on children and young people, particularly those who are most disadvantaged.

“Ourselves, the wider voluntary and community sector and even the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly called on the Secretary of State to rethink the 2023/24 budget and protect children from harm. Unfortunately, those concerns were ignored and we were left with no option but to take legal action.

“We are taking this challenge to ensure children and young people are protected from harm when budget decisions are being made. We must ensure the legal process for doing that is followed, regardless of who sets the budget.

“We are now facing the prospect of another grim budget setting process. We want to be as clear as possible – a repeat of the so called punishment budget must never happen again.”

Read More

Protect Children from Budget Cuts or Face Legal Action

22 June 2023

Children’s Law Centre issues pre-action letter to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Finance

The Children’s Law Centre has written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, outlining failures in the budget setting process for the year 2023/24. The letter states that the Secretary of State has failed in his responsibility to apply the principle of equality, including assessing whether the cumulative impact of the budget cuts is disproportionately affecting disadvantaged children, including disabled children.

The Children’s Law Centre had previously written to the Secretary of State, in a letter endorsed by over 200 organisations and leading individuals, stating that his budget will cause active harm to children and young people. The latest correspondence requests that several meaningful steps are taken to address equality and human rights concerns which impact on children. If these steps are not taken, the Children’s Law Centre believes it will regrettably be left with no alternative but to bring legal proceedings.

Fergal McFerran, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the Children’s Law Centre, said:

“In the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive and a functioning Assembly, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, has ultimate responsibility to apply the principle of equality when setting the budget. This includes assessing the cumulative impact his budget will have on protected groups in our society such as children in need, children with special educational needs and disabilities, and children living in poverty.

“From our engagement with the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office, we see no evidence that Chris Heaton-Harris has carried out his legal obligations. In fact, it is our view that he has utterly failed to do so. We fear the cumulative impact his budget will have on children and young people will be severe, particularly those most disadvantaged. We already see this in our everyday work.

“The Children’s Law Centre, the wider voluntary and community sector and even the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child have repeatedly called on the Secretary of State to rethink his budget and protect children from harm. Unfortunately, concerns about the cumulative impact of the budget on the most vulnerable and the Secretary of State’s apparent failure to ensure equality appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

“If the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland fails to take meaningful steps to assess how to protect children from the cumulative effects of the budget cuts, we will be left with no reasonable alternative other than to seek leave to apply to the High Court in Belfast for judicial review. Indeed, as an organisation set up to advance the rights of children, it would regrettably be the only course of action left to us.”

Read More

UN Concluding Observations Demonstrate Scale of Failure to Meet Children’s Rights Requirements

02 June 2023

Concluding observations include wide range of recommendations including a call to scrap the NI budget and start again

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child produced concluding observations following examination of the UK government and devolved regions.

The Children’s Law Centre has said the scale of non-compliance with human rights obligations is alarming and called for immediate action to implement the recommendations.

Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Children’s Law Centre said:

“This is a damning set of recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. It reflects the grim picture facing children and young people in this jurisdiction today. The gap in children’s rights has grown significantly over the last decade and children and young people are suffering every day because of it, whether that’s facing discrimination, failure to access services or simply not being allowed to have a say on decisions affecting them.

“We now need to see swift action to address the many failings identified throughout the examination process. There can be no excuses or delay. The scale of non-compliance with human rights obligations is alarming.

“Some major recommendations like raising the age of criminal responsibility, legislation to protect under 18s from age discrimination, and the introduction of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland have been outstanding for years and have now been included in successive concluding observations. Other recommendations like scrapping the Northern Ireland budget, ending PSNI strip-searches of children and ending the use of contingency accommodation for asylum seeking children are new and add to a growing list of children’s rights breaches.

“Children and young people are being seriously failed. The gap in children’s rights has dramatically increased over the last decade due to the lack of action. The situation has become even worse due to the attacks on human rights by the UK government, the collapse of local decision making, the impact of Brexit and the failure to properly resource services.”

Fergal McFerran continued:

“We carried out an extensive piece of work with sector experts and children and young people themselves to identify the issues in this jurisdiction. We’re reassured that the Committee has reflected that work in their recommendations. We thank them, and in particular their UK taskforce, for their diligent work.

“We would also like to thank everyone who took part in the research, including NGOs, Dr Deena Haydon, Jerome Finnegan from Save the Children and of course the children and young people who either told us their views or presented to Committee members themselves. Their work has had a direct impact on the outcome of the reporting process.

“We now owe it to them all to see major change.”

The Concluding Observations contains a wide range of recommendations. Other key recommendations cover issues such as the right to withdraw from religious worship in schools, relationship and sexuality education, restraint and seclusion, abortion, stop and search, plastic bullets, protecting children from paramilitaries, and ending the hostile environment for refugee and asylum seekers.

The Children’s Law Centre led the Northern Ireland NGO sector in reporting to the UN Committee, including the submission of three major reports and leading two delegations of experts and young people to present evidence to Committee members.

The Centre will now work to ensure the recommendations are implemented by those responsible.

The Concluding Observations can be found at:

Read More

Cuts to Services Will Harm a Generation of Children

03 May 2023

Over 200 organisations and individuals write to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland calling for a reversal of recent budget decisions

Concern raised around potential breach of statutory duties and failure to assess the impact of decisions

We have now stopped accepting signatures and are updating the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, with the final list of endorsements. Thank you to the 200+ who signed the letter. We will continue to work to protect children from harm

Over 200 organisations and individuals have jointly signed a letter written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, raising concern around the impact of budget decisions and cuts to services. The letter urges the Secretary of State to reconsider the budget decisions and immediately assess the impact on children and young people.

Read the letter

After submitting the letter, Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Children’s Law Centre, said:

“The budget and the cuts to services flowing from it will cause active harm to a generation of children and young people. We have had weeks of announcements signalling cuts to children’s support and early intervention services that will cause significant long-term harm to many.

“The way in which these decisions are being made is an affront to children’s rights and equality. Despite having a statutory duty to assess the impact and to protect children, particularly children who are disadvantaged or have additional needs, these services are the first to go.

“Many children and young people, as well as their parents, guardians and carers, are already at breaking point. There is a crisis in mental health for our young people, a complete failure around services for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and unacceptable numbers of children living in poverty. Yet, budget decisions are targeting these groups of children directly.

“Rather than cutting children’s services, we must look at how we better protect our children and young people. We should be strengthening laws to ensure they have full access to services that support their survival and development. We should be making decisions that are in their best interests, rather than knowingly subjecting them to future harm.”

The full list of endorsements include:

Acrewood Daycare

Action For Children

Action Mental Health

Advice NI


An Droichead

Angel Eyes NI

ARC Healthy Living Centre Ltd

Ardoyne Youth Enterprise

BAAT (British Association of Art Therapists)

BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy)

BADth (British Association of Dramatherapists)

BAMT (British Association for Music Therapy)

Barnardo’s NI

BASW NI (British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland)

Beechmount Sure Start

Belfast City Council

Belfast Interface Project

Bishop Street Youth Club

Blackfort Adolescent Gestalt Institute

Bloomfield Community Association

Breda Academy


Carrickfergus Hub Improving Lives Locally (CHILL)

Chartered Institute of Housing

Cherish Sure Start

Children’s Law Centre

CiNI (Children in Northern Ireland)

Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum

CO3 (Chief Officers 3rd Sector)

Colin Early Intervention Community

Colin Neighbourhood Partnership

Common Youth

Community Development & Health Network


Conway Education Centre

Corpus Christi Youth Centre

Creggan Youth Drop-in

Crumlin Ardoyne Neighbourhood Renewal Partnership


Disability Action NI

Dyslexia Awareness NI

Early Years

East Belfast Sure Start

EastSide Learning

Ecojustice Ireland

Employers for Childcare

Enagh Youth Forum

Engage Project


Family Mediation NI

Focus The Identity Trust


Footprints Women’s Centre

Forward South Partnership

Foyle Down Syndrome Trust

Full Service Community Network

Giggles Early Years

Glenbrook Sure Start

Glen Community Parent Youth Group

Greater Shantallow Area Partnership

Greenway Women’s Centre

Harberton Special School and Outreach Services

Hazelwood Integrated College


Holy Family Youth Centre

Holy Trinity College

Holywell Trust

Human Rights Consortium

Include Youth

Ionad Uíbh Eachach

Kids Together Belfast

Lagmore Youth Project

Law Centre NI

Lifestart Foundation

Longtower Youth Club

LORAG (Lower Ormeau Residents Action Group)

Mae Murray Foundation

Matchbox Youth Club

Melted Parents NI


Menstruation Matters Belfast

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

Migrant Centre NI


Mornington Community Project

NAHT NI (National Association of Head Teachers NI)

National Autistic Society NI

National Children’s Bureau

National Education Union

National Energy Action NI

NDCS (National Deaf Children’s Society)


NI Council for Racial Equality

NICVA (Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action)

NI Rural Women’s Network

Niamh Louise Foundation

NIAPN (NI Anti-Poverty Network)

NIBPS (Northern Ireland Branch of the British Psychological Society)

NIPSA (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance)

North West Community Network

Northwest Youth Services

Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group

Northern Ireland Youth Forum

NUS-USI (Nation Union of Students – Union of Students in Ireland)

Our Streets Derry

Parent Action NI

Parenting NI

Parkview Special School

Phoenix Law

Playtime Day Nursery Eskra


Poleglass Community Association at Sally Gardens

Positive Futures

PPR (Participation and Practice of Rights)

Quaker Service

Queen’s Students’ Union

Rainbow Child and Family Centre

Reclaim the Agenda

Relate NI

Relatives for Justice

Relax Kids Belfast

RNIB NI (Royal National Institute of Blind People)

Rural Community Network

Saól Úr Sure Start

Save the Children NI

SENAC (Special Educational Needs Advice Centre)

Sense NI

Shimna Integrated College

Simon Community

Sleepy Hollow Group

Sólás Special Needs Charity

South Belfast Sure Start

SSUNI (Secondary Students’ Union NI)

St. Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School

St. Mary’s Limavady

St. Mary’s Youth Club, Creggan

St. Peters Immaculata Youth Centre

St. Ronan’s Primary School Newry


STEP (South Tyrone Empowerment Programme)

Surestart Edenballymore


The Bytes Project

The Fostering Network

The Larder Belfast

The Rainbow Project

Trussell Trust


Unite the Union

UTU (Ulster Teachers’ Union)

Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC)

West Belfast Partnership Board

WheelWorks Arts

Whiterock Children’s Centre

Women’s Regional Consortium

Women’s Resource and Development Agency

Women’s Support Network

Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland

Women’s Platform

Youth Engagement Service

Young Enterprise NI

Youth Work Alliance

Youth Action NI

Youth Empowerment And Resilience (YEAR) Project

Youth First Youth Club

Youth Initiatives

Adrian Walsh, Principal, St. Colm’s High School, Belfast

Alan Law, Chairperson – Education Trade Union Group – NIC-ICTU

Ciaran White BL

Deborah Erwin, Youth Engagement Consultant

Deirdre McAliskey, A Way With Words

Deirdre Shakespeare, Harry’s Law

Dr Bronagh Byrne, Senior Lectuer in Social Policy, Queen’s University People

Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick, Ulster University

Dr Deena Haydon

Dr Dominic McSherry, Reader in Psychology, Ulster University

Dr Fiona Bloomer, Senior Lecturer, Ulster University

Dr Gillian Kane, Lecturer in Law, Ulster University

Dr Karen Hagan, Open University

Dr Karen Orr, Stranmillis University College

Dr Liam O’Hare, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr Lucy Royal-Dawson, Ulster University

Dr Raied Al-Wazzan

Dr Siobhán McAlister, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Queen’s University, Belfast

Dr Suzanne Mooney, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr Una Convery, Lecturer in Criminology, Ulster University

Emmet McAleer, Independent Councillor

Goretti Horgan, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, Ulster University

Jackie Redpath, Greater Shankhill Partnership

Katrina Crilly, Principal, St. Patrick’s College, Maghera

Koulla Yiasouma, Former NI Commissioner for Children and Young People

Madeleine Leonard, Professor Emeritus, School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen’s University, Belfast

Phil Scraton, Professor Emeritus, School of Law, Queen’s University, Belfast

Professor Andrew Percy, Queen’s University Belfast

Professor Anne-Marie McAlinden, Queen’s University Belfast

Professor Colin Harvey, Queen’s University Belfast

Professor Laura Lundy, Queen’s University Belfast

Professor Rory O’Connell, Ulster University

Professor Victoria Simms, Professor of Developmental Psychology, Ulster University

Sinead Kyle BL

Read More