Skip to main content


EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.3 Youth representation bodies

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 11/11/2020 - 00:53

On this page
  1. Youth parliament
  2. Youth councils and/or youth advisory boards
  3. Higher education student union(s)
  4. School student union(s)
  5. Other bodies

Youth parliament

In July 2020, a Northern Ireland Youth Assembly was announced by the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission. It will have 90 members, 54 of whom will be drawn from the NI Assembly constituencies and 36 from specific sections of the community. The core age range of the members will be 13 to 17, but there will be an upper age limit of 21.

Alex Maskey, the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Chair of the Commission said

“It will give young people a voice and an opportunity to have their say on the issues that matter to them.  We must do more to encourage the next generation to get involved in politics and democracy here.  The Youth Assembly will allow us to do that. The functions of the Youth Assembly are at an early stage, but deliberately so. We want to get young people involved as early as possible to help shape how it will work, what its priorities will be and what it will focus on. Young people’s involvement will be key to establishing a platform that meets the needs of the next generation, ensuring their voices are heard, their ideas considered and their visions valued. I would urge young people to grasp this opportunity to become active citizens. This is your chance to stand up for what you want and help change the things you don’t. As a young representative on the Youth Assembly, you will be right at the heart of democracy here. The Youth Assembly team will soon be asking young people for their views on what they want from a Youth Assembly.  I am looking forward to getting the first Youth Assembly session up and running and chairing their first debate in the Assembly Chamber.”

The core age range of the members will be 13 to 17, but there will be an upper age limit of 21 to ensure diverse representation. · It is envisaged that the Youth Assembly will have two plenary sittings a year and have up to four Committees, which will meet more regularly. · The two plenary sittings are likely to take place in Parliament Buildings and will be presided over by the Speaker in the Assembly Chamber. · The committees of the Youth Assembly may also meet in Parliament Buildings but it is expected that they will also meet in other locations.

Two members of staff from the Assembly Education Service will share the role of Youth Assembly Manager to support the initial phase of the Youth Assembly. This will include undertaking further engagement with the sector and young people and taking forward the arrangements and practicalities of how the first members of the Youth Assembly will be sought and chosen. In addition, the Commission plans to recruit two youth sector workers to assist in the long term development and operation of the Youth Assembly. The costs of the Youth Assembly will be funded directly by the Assembly Commission.  Further details are available here

Northern Ireland Youth Congress

The Northern Ireland Youth Congress was established by members of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF) in March 2014, following an election in which over 7000 young people voted to appoint Members of Youth Congress (MYCs), aged between 11 and 25, from each of the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland.

Since its establishment, the Youth Congress has developed a manifesto, met with Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and key decision makers, organised ‘Have Your Say Days’, participated in and fed into consultations and campaigns. The inaugural annual sitting was held in 2015 within the Assembly Chambers. At a further meeting in 2018 the Youth Congress determined that it should organise elections to the first Youth Assembly (pre-empting the statutory formation of a Youth Assembly).  In summer 2020, the Northern Ireland Youth Forum published a report based on over 1,000 responses to a survey of young people around Northern Ireland highlighting their experiences during the COVID-19 lockdown. The ‘Our Voices Aren’t in Lockdown’ report can be found here.

Engagement with young people has continued to be developed in the Northern Ireland Assembly through its Education Service Programme (see ‘Information providers/counselling structures' in the article ‘Raising political awareness among young people’).

UK Youth Parliament (UKYP)

The UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) is a UK-wide initiative run by the British Youth Council in partnership with the Northern Ireland Youth Forum. Northern Ireland has an allocation of 18 Members. Any young person aged 11-18 can stand to be a Member of the Youth Parliament (MYP). An MYP must stand down on his/her 19th birthday.

Once elected, MYPs organise events and projects, run campaigns and influence decision makers on the issues which matter most to young people and promote the concepts of youth participation and empowerment. All MYPs meet once a year at the UK Youth Parliament Annual Sitting.

  • The annual debate in the House of Commons chamber is chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons. MYPs debate five issues chosen by a ‘Make Your Mark’ ballot of young people from across the UK, and then vote to decide which two issues should become their priority campaigns for the year ahead (one UK-wide and the other a priority campaign for England).  The last session of the Youth Parliament, on the 9th November 2019. 

Climate change was declared the top concern with over 800,000 people voting for this issue via the Make Your Mark ballot. You can read about the other issues covered and watch the sessions here. The next session will be held in November 2020. 



Youth councils and/or youth advisory boards

Northern Ireland Youth Forum

The Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF) is a youth led regional membership organisation, open to any young person aged 11-25. It lobbies, advocates, promotes and fights for the rights of young people in Northern Ireland. NIYF was established in 1979 by the Department of Education to represent the views of young people to Government and other decision makers.

It holds Annual General Meetings (AGM), to give its members the opportunity to vote on how the organisation is run, and what policy areas they should get involved in; and it holds the election of the Executive Committee. It’s most recent AGM was in September 2018. 

The Executive Committee of 17 members is responsible for the management of the Youth Forum and setting its priorities. The term of office is two years. Since 1979, the NIYF has received its funding from the Department of Education via the Youth Council for Northern Ireland. The Youth Council for Northern Irelan,d while remaining a statutory body, is not currently (October 2020) operational following the end of the term of office of the Board members.  The Education Minister has requested an engagement with the youth sector to inform his decision on the future role (if any) of the Youth Council NI. This work is currently in progress.  NIYF’s work is cross-community in nature and focuses on social issues. Equality, diversity and interdependence are central to its ethos. The Youth Forum also coordinates the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) in Northern Ireland (see ‘Youth parliament’ above).

Local Advisory Groups

As required under the Priorities for Youth strategy (Department of Education, 2013) and in order to have its priorities addressed, a Regional Youth Development Plan (RYDP) covering the period 2017-20 was established and approved by the Department of Education, for implementation via Area Youth Development Plans.  Local advisory groups (LAGs) provide advice to support the development and implementation of local youth service provision via Area Youth Development Plans and influence the development of the Regional Youth Development Plan. Final decisions in relation to the Area Youth Development Plans and any other area which the LAG is asked to provide input to will be taken by the Education Authority as the accounting body in line with the overall framework, priorities and budget established by the Department of Education.

Draft terms of reference state that the LAG should have a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 25 members to include 6/8 young people. As outlined in the Regional Youth Development Plan, young people are supported to be involved in LAGs, in some cases receiving training, in order to increase the local participation of young people and their contribution to shaping local services.



Higher education student union(s)

The National Union of Students – Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI) was established in 1972 under a unique arrangement whereby both the British and Irish national student unions, the UK National Union of Students (NUS) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) respectively, jointly organised in Northern Ireland to promote student unity across the sectarian divide. Students at an affiliated college are members of both national students' unions and benefit from full representation in each body.

NUS-USI represents the interests of around 200,000 students in Northern Ireland and campaigns on their behalf in many different fields such as education, liberation, welfare and citizenship.

NUS-USI is led by the president who is elected annually at the NUS-USI conference. The further education officer, welfare officer and campaigns & citizenship officer are also up for election at NUS-USI conference annually. NUS-USI further education, women’s, BAEM, LGBT+ and disabled students officers are elected at their respective conferences, where liberation committees are also elected to support the work of each liberation officer.

Elections also take place for a position on the NUS UK national executive council. This person, along with the NUS-USI president, represents students and scrutinises the work of leadership at the UK level of the National Union of Students.

The term of office for elected officers is one year, to a maximum of two terms.

The NUS-USI is funded through both fees paid by affiliated unions and ad hoc grant funding.

In November 2015, NUSU-USI signed a partnership agreement with the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, a youth-led organisation which is concerned with young people’s rights (see ‘Youth councils and/or youth advisory boards' above). The partnership is based on the potential for joint campaigning and support.

NUS-USI's campaigns for 2019/20 focus on issues such as Brexit, equality, abortion reform, welfare cuts, LGBT+ awareness, sexual violence and votes at 16.



School student union(s)

There is no top-level body representing secondary school students. While it is government policy to encourage schools to involve students in the life of the school, it is up to individual schools as to how to do this. School Councils, representative groups of students who have been proposed and elected by their peers to represent their views and raise issues with the leadership and governors of the school are common, but not formally organised into networks. In 2014, the Department of Education published guidance for Principals and Boards of Governors on how to encourage pupil participation in decision making in schools. The guidance outlines the benefits of participation and what successful participation may involve, including the establishment of school councils.

See ‘Non-formal and informal learning’ for further information about the Department of Education's support for school councils.



Other bodies

The Small Grants Programme Youth Panel

This was established in November 2015 as part of the Regional Youth Development Plan. The panel is a representative group of 10 young people, aged 15 to 20 years, from throughout Northern Ireland who have been supported to develop and deliver the Small Grants Programme, which was set up to enable young people to administer grants to other young people, and aims to strengthen the participation of young people as decision-makers within the local and wider community (see ‘Public financial support’ in the article on ‘Supporting youth organisations’). Since then, the Panel has engaged in a number of training sessions exploring a range of themes which aided in their understanding of participation, youth policy and the funding process. The grant application and guidance notes were developed by the young people as a product of the training and their understanding of the processes involved.

You can read their reviewed Regional Youth Development Plan 2020-2023 in light of COVID-19 here. 

The British Youth Council

The British Youth Council is an independent UK charity run for and by young people which works to empower young people and promote their interests at a local, national, European and international level and to promote the increased participation of young people in society and public life. In 2016, the UK Government confirmed continued funding until 2020 in support of BYC’s ‘Youth Voice’ programme, which includes the UK Youth Parliament (see ‘Youth parliament). For more information, visit the Youth Voice webpage.

The Youth Voice Leadership Development Programme, a BYC flagship event, brings youth representatives from across the UK together for training courses to help develop their leadership skills, that will support them become successful representatives for their peers and community.

The Youth Select Committee, is a BYC initiative, supported by the House of Commons. There are eleven committee members, aged 15 to 18, and include Members of the UK Youth Parliament, Youth Councillors, a Young Mayor, and reserved seats and representatives from each devolved nation. It forms part of the ‘Youth Voice’ programme run by the BYC and includes one elected representative for Scotland. It enables young people to participate on a national level – hold inquiries into issues that they care about to influence policies.