Press Release

Assembly Seminars Put Spotlight on Policy-Making

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Reference: SO 16/11/12

The Northern Ireland Assembly is taking the lead in bringing together local researchers with MLAs, local employers and the community and voluntary sector to help inform the legislative programme.

A series of seminars, beginning on the 22nd of March and continuing until the 5th of July will see academics from The Queen’s University of Belfast sharing their research findings on a wide range of topics, from measuring local poverty to young people’s attitudes to peace walls and addressing educational underachievement of children in care.

The seminar series is intended to aid MLAs as they debate proposed legislation and give them a forum to discuss issues with both academic researchers and stakeholder groups, including public and private sector organisations.

Commenting on the new initiative, the Speaker for the Assembly, Mr William Hay MLA said: “We very pleased to be able to host this seminar series. It gives us an opportunity to bring together researchers and those involved in policy development in a forum which will produce better and more evidence based laws and programmes.

“Our Research and Information Service provides an excellent service to our MLAs and supports them as they carry out their legislative role. We believe that research carried out by local academics can inform and aid this process.

“This series is the first in what we hope will be a rolling programme of informative seminars. We expect that the University of Ulster will also take part and share their expertise.

“We expect these seminars will be of interest to a wide range of groups and individuals and we look forward to welcoming them to Parliament Buildings.”

Notes to Editors:

The seminar series will take place on Thursdays, in Room 115 in Parliament Buildings on the Stormont Estate. Parking is available and those interested in attending may reserve their place by emailing

Details of the programme are:

22 March - Sally Shortall: What counts as ‘evidence’? - The complexities of providing evidence to inform public policy - Evidence-based policy implicitly assumes a linear relationship between research evidence and policy formation. The reality is much more complex. There are power struggles between different groups presenting different interpretations of the world, political ideology is a key driver of policy making, resources are finite, and policies must be palatable with the electorate. This paper will explore the complexities of evidence based policy.

26 April - Mike Tomlinson: Defining the breadline. Is there a Northern Ireland consensus? - Measures of poverty typically combine low income with indicators of deprivation – items and activities that people lack because they cannot afford them.  Which deprivation indicators are the important ones for defining poverty is a matter of debate. The seminar will present findings from a population-wide survey of Northern Ireland asking people’s opinion about items and activities that everyone should be able to afford and not have to do without.  A total of 76 items and activities were tested and the seminar will explore the degree of consensus within the population on ‘the necessities of life’.

3 May - Madeleine Leonard: young people’ attitudes to peace walls in Belfast - The purpose of this presentation is to present young people’s attitudes to peace-walls in Belfast and whether they feel peace-walls should be temporary or permanent structures.  The presentation will underline how important it is for policy-makers to consult with young people on their attitudes to these walls as a prelude to finding ways to challenge taken for granted assumptions about the legacy of conflict in Northern Ireland.

10 May - Lynn Johnston:  The life-course, age and intergenerational relations - Our planet’s changing age demographic has sparked economic debates relating to intergenerational equity and exchanges. This seminar focusses on the social aspects of intergenerational relationships and will present findings from a neighbourhood case study. At the local level, issues which impact on intergenerational relationships are presented around three themes: social exclusion, age discrimination and the legacy of the conflict.

17 May - Gavin Davidson: Supported and Substitute Decision Making under Mental Capacity Legislation: a review of the international evidence - The Mental Capacity (Health, Welfare and Finance) Bill for Northern Ireland is currently being drafted. The proposed law is a potentially progressive approach to providing a comprehensive legal framework for substitute decision making for people whose decision making is impaired. An important aspect of the law, policy and practice in this area is ensuring that, before substitute decision making is used, all practicable steps are taken to support the person to make their own decision/s. This seminar will review the international evidence on supported and substitute decision making frameworks.

31 May - Karen Winter: Addressing the educational underachievement of children in care - It is well known that across the U.K and elsewhere children in care have poor educational poor outcomes in comparison with the child population as a whole. The figures for Northern Ireland indicate that children in care here have the lowest attainment scores in Maths and English. This seminar will present the findings of a study that sought to ascertain the effectiveness of a scheme-the Letterbox Club-in raising attainment levels for primary school children in foster care ages 7-11 years.

7 June - Nicola Carr and Karen Winter: Improving court work skills in child care proceedings - The benefits of an inter-disciplinary approach are evident when working with individuals and families with a range of complex needs, and who have contact with multiple services. This is particularly apposite in the area of child protection and welfare. This seminar will present an overview of an innovative inter-professional training initiative, which focuses on developing court work skills for practice in child care proceedings. The importance of comprehensive evidence-based assessment and competency within the judicial setting is highlighted.

14 June - Karen McElrath and Julie Harris: Institutional stigma and the delivery of methadone maintenance: A comparison of clients' experiences from North/South Ireland  - Methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is widely recognised as an intervention that is used to treat opioid (namely heroin) dependence. It is highly regulated and is available in both North/South Ireland.  Using data collected in four different studies in North/South Ireland, we describe clients’ experiences with MMT.  Methadone provision in both jurisdictions was characterized by social control and institutional stigma, that served to reinforce “addict” identities, expose “undeserving” patients to the public gaze, and create barriers to reintegration. We discuss these findings in terms of the challenges for policymakers and service providers.

21 June - Janet Carter- Anand: Older people’s perceptions of elder abuse: Implications for policy and professional practice - The development of elder abuse services has traditionally been defined from the perspective of policy makers and professionals. This presentation will outline the findings from the first all-Ireland study that consulted older people as to their views on what interventions and services support people experiencing abuse. The subsequent report found that older people perceived elder abuse more in terms of “personhood abuse”. The policy implication of these findings for service development is that enhanced attention and resources should be directed to community development activities that empower older people to share their concerns informally thereby gaining confidence to seek more formal interventions when necessary.

28 June - Ann-Marie Doherty: Health in All Policies - It is well know that health expenditure is costly. The introduction of a “whole of government approach to health” is gaining increasing momentum around the world.  We know little about how policy to improve the health of the population gets made and the evidence and influence that has a bearing on this.  This seminar focuses on Health in All Policies as an emerging paradigm across Government. It will present findings from a PhD study, where a range of ‘elite’ interviews were carried out with Departmental Officials, Members of the Legislative Assembly and Advisors.

5 July - Joanne Wilson:  Understandings of well-being: Implications for public policy - This seminar explores the Government’s current desire to measure the nation’s well-being. Well-being is a complex and nebulous concept and different people will use different words to describe it. While this lack of clarity has not hampered our ability to measure the construct, it does pose significant implications for its use as a public health goal. Based on a conceptual map, we discuss how two different discourses (i.e. the individual and the collective) can shape the types of policies developed, the targets set, the choice of indicators used and the types of interventions applied to advance well-being.

For any media enquiries please contact:

Debra Savage
Communications Officer
Northern Ireland Assembly
Tel: 028 9052 1405
Mobile: 07920 864221

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