Thursday, 5 December 2013

Robinson and McGuinness express sympathy at death of Nelson Mandela

First Minister Rt. Hon Peter D Robinson MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA have expressed their profound sadness at the death of Nelson Mandela.

The First Minister said: "It is with deep sorrow that I heard of the death of Nelson Mandela and I offer my condolences to his entire family circle at this time. We have known for some time that he was ill, nonetheless, it still comes as a great shock to lose such an inspirational man and a massive figure in terms of world politics.

"I met Nelson Mandela on two occasions and was struck by his considerable humility and charisma. He did not see himself in terms of celebrity yet barely anyone throughout the world would not recognise his name and that is no small part because of his unique ability to connect personally with people.

"Nelson Mandela carried out his role with a real talent to draw people and whole communities together. South Africa and the rest of the world had a tremendous respect for him.

"When I asked how he dealt with opposition and the business of negotiation he commented that real negotiation is not with political opponents, rather with your own community and while they may feel you are stepping ahead of them, it is important to convince them to make the journey - a message so pertinent to our own peace process.”

The deputy First Minister said: "I offer my heartfelt sympathies to his family at this difficult time. I was honoured to meet Nelson Mandela the last time he was in Dublin and there is no doubt he was truly one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime.

"Through his humility, strong negotiation skills and desire for justice he earned respect as an ambassador for peace, human rights and democracy across the globe. It was appropriate in 1993 this was recognised when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with former South African President FW De Klerk.

"He will be remembered for demonstrating what is possible when people are committed to peace and reconciliation in areas of conflict. Nelson Mandela has left an indelible mark not only in South Africa but across the world. In 1997, at a critical stage of our peace process, I was honoured to lead, at the invitation of President Mandela, a delegation to South Africa for significant discussion with South African peace negotiators, which also included all parties from the North.

"President Mandela’s interest in the success of the peace process was epitomised by the valuable contributions made by amongst others Cyril Ramaphosa, his Chief negotiator and the now Deputy President of African National Congress, who was a constant source of support to us throughout. Nelson Mandela was a true friend to Ireland.”

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Finance Minister sets out to reassure Civil Service Pensions staff of no redundancies

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has set out to reassure staff working in Civil Service Pensions Branch in Londonderry that no one will be made redundant as plans progress to replace the pension administration and payment systems.

The Minister was speaking during an Adjournment Debate in the Assembly this evening on public sector jobs in the North West.

Simon Hamilton said: “I am acutely aware that staff in Civil Service Pensions Branch in Waterside House, Londonderry are concerned about job security in light of the plan to replace the pension administration and payment systems. Not least because their fears have been whipped up by ill-informed public comment.

“The Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme in Northern Ireland is the main pension scheme for all Northern Ireland civil servants and a number of other bodies. As of March 2013, there were 34,000 active members, 27,000 pensioner members and 8,500 deferred members of this scheme.”

Setting the context for the need of a replacement IT system the Minister continued:“The contracts in respect of the two current computer systems used to perform member administration and pensioner payroll functions are coming to an end and therefore must be replaced.

“The main options to be considered include both a system solution to be operated by civil servants or a managed service, i.e. an outsourced solution. No decision on the preferred option has yet been made. The Business Case is still being developed and has a number of Departmental approval stages to complete. My officials have consulted and will continue to consult with Trade Union Side and will keep staff up to date with developments as the project progresses.

“Civil Service Pensions Branch will continue to exist and be staffed by civil servants as there are a number of other key functions to delivery such as scheme management, policy and legislation and finance. However, whichever option is approved, there will be a reduction in staff required. Any surplus staff will be managed in line with documented NICS procedures, including natural wastage and redeployment. Let me reiterate no one will be made redundant contrary to the public statements to this effect attributed to NIPSA.”

Commenting on public service pension reform the Minister added: “Pension reform has an impact on the need for a new solution to be found. It is not the main driver for change, but in order to implement the new pension scheme for civil servants from 1 April 2015the new solution must be in place by that date.

“HM Treasury have made clear that we need to press ahead with the reforms of public service pensions. Failure to do this for the main schemes is estimated at over £300m for each year’s delay.”

Concluding Simon Hamilton said: “I want to recognise the work that the staff in Civil Service Pensions Branch do. I regret that some have sought to prey on their fears for their own ends. Screaming publicly that 80 jobs will be lost when nothing could be further from the truth does those staff no service whatsoever.”

Friday, 18 October 2013

O’Dowd condemns attempted bomb attack at special needs school

Education Minister John O’Dowd has condemned the attempted bomb attack at Ceara Special School in Lurgan today.

The Education Minister said: "I, along with the rest of the community, am disgusted by the actions of those who planted a bomb at Ceara Special School in Lurgan this morning. This attack was against the most vulnerable in our society and is a clear indication of the contempt that those responsible hold for the entire community.

“There is no more stark contrast when you look at the action of the bombers and the actions of those who work in Ceara School day after day caring and loving for their pupils. Ceara School, its staff, pupils and parents represent everything we can be proud of in our community. Those behind this attack are the direct opposite of everything Ceara school stands for.

“I urge anyone with any information about this attack to contact the PSNI.”

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Foster and Hamilton announce agri-food loan scheme

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, MLA have announced today that a new Agri-Food Loan Scheme will be open for business in November. 

The Scheme will be delivered jointly with a number of Northern Ireland’s banks. It will help local food producers, who form part of an integrated supply chain, to access the finance they would need to invest in the farm buildings necessary to increase supply of the primary produce for processing.

Arlene Foster said: “Over recent months, several major retailers have decided to sell only UK sourced meat products. This presents major opportunities for the local Agri-Food industry and that is why we have been working with the banks to explore the potential for an Agri-Food Loan Scheme which would enable businesses to take advantage of the opportunities that exist.”

Simon Hamilton said: “The scheme we have announced today will see the Northern Ireland Executive, working proactively with a number of our banks, to provide significant finance in the form of loans to local food producers who form part of an integrated supply chain. Discussions with the banks have been very positive and highly constructive, and we are pleased to announce that we have agreed a Memorandum of Understanding, setting out our joint commitment to deliver the Scheme.”

The first phase of the Scheme will be open to broiler producers in Northern Ireland. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the Department of Finance and Personnel and Invest Northern Ireland are also working with the banks to roll out subsequent phases of the scheme to other Agri-Food sectors over the coming months.

Commenting on the roll out Simon Hamilton continued: “The Agri-food Loan Scheme will roll out on a phased basis and the first phase of the Scheme will open for applications next month. This first phase will be open to broiler producers and we are already working to develop subsequent phases of the scheme in respect of, pig meat, egg production, red meat and dairy.”

Arlene Foster added: “Difficulty in accessing finance was one of the issues identified in ‘Going for Growth’, the Strategic Action Plan developed by the industry led Agri-Food Strategy Board.

“Our co-operation with the banks demonstrates that we are not only listening to, but acting on, the concerns of industry. It is also an example that the Executive is working together to provide support for local businesses. 

“We have worked hard to ensure that this Scheme is as straightforward as possible for producers – essentially we have created a one-stop shop. Processes within the Banks and Invest NI will be coordinated to ensure that applicants will only be required to submit one application for finance using the normal channels within the Banks.”

Simon Hamilton concluded: Initiatives such as this are crucial as we, in partnership with our local banks, work to create a better environment for business and as we strive to ensure that local companies can make the most of opportunities for growth that arise.

“£10 million has been allocated to Invest Northern Ireland to facilitate the first phase of the Scheme this year, and the Executive has agreed to commit further funds to the Scheme should there be significant demand.”

More information...

1. Discussions have been taking place with the banks in respect of an Agri-Food Loan Scheme aimed at the Agri-Food industry. The first phase of the Scheme will be open to broiler producers and discussions are ongoing with the banks to roll the scheme out to the pig meat, egg producers, red meat and dairy sectors.

2. The Scheme will operate for a limited time only.

3. The Scheme will be delivered jointly by the banks and Invest NI. Processes within the Banks and Invest NI will be coordinated to ensure that applicants will only be required to submit one application for finance using the normal channels within the Banks. Finance will be provided by the Northern Ireland Executive by means of loans, which will be provided on commercial terms and these loans will be subordinated to bank debt. The precise application of the scheme may be adapted as it is rolled out to other sectors and this will be determined following further negotiation with the banks and those sectors.

4. Participating banks include Bank of Ireland, Barclays Bank, Danske Bank, First Trust Bank, HSBC, Santander and Ulster Bank.

5. Going for Growth can be accessed on the Agrifood Strategy Board website

Sunday, 8 September 2013

O’Dowd calls for a united community against schools threat

Education Minister John O’Dowd has condemned the news that a threat has been made in relation to a number of schools in North Belfast.


Mr O’Dowd said:  “I am very disturbed to hear that a threat has been issued in relation to a number of schools in Belfast.


“Regardless of anyone’s politics or views, schools should and must be havens for the young people who attend them and the staff who work  there. As Education Minister my priority is to ensure that children are educated in a safe and secure environment, free from threat or intimidation.  I believe this is a priority all our society should share.


“Threats such as this should be condemned by everyone in society – not just political, religious and community leaders, but all of us.  Communities must unite against such threats. Whatever difficulties arise in our society, we cannot let them disrupt our schools and threaten the lives of children, young people and the staff who work there”.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

We are all winners after a successful World Police and Fire Games – Ní Chuilín

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has attended the Closing Ceremony of the World Police and Fire Games at the Titanic Slipways in Belfast.
The event brings to a close the competition, which saw 7,000 athletes from 67 countries take part in 56 sports at 41 venues across the north.
The Minister said: “The Closing Ceremony officially lowers the curtain on a remarkable 10 days in the north. It is appropriate to look back on an event the like of which we have never seen before. That we could host the World Police and Fire Games might have been unimaginable a few years ago.
“Yet we have confidently welcomed thousands of competitors from across the globe to join in a sporting spectacular. The Games have further opened the eyes of the world to the north, they have come and experienced the best of what we have to offer. In return, they brought a significant boost to business and tourism in Belfast and beyond.
“The event has also helped open our own eyes to what we can achieve when we work together. We promised the friendliest World Police and Fire Games. The result is Belfast buzzing with visitors and a Games played in the spirit of competition and camaraderie.”
The Minister added that the Games are a shining example of the power of culture, arts and leisure to bring people together.
She said: “What the last ten days have done is reflect a vibrant, confident and forward-looking society. We invited the world to visit the north, thousands of people came and saw our best side – now they are heading home with fond memories.
“This was a collective effort, but that should not take away from the tremendous individual endeavours which have made these Games a success. This has been evident in the build-up and throughout the Games: from the organisers to the volunteers to personnel representing the services; from the sporting officials to the backroom staff who helped deliver the competition.
“Spectators, who have numbered in the tens of thousands, have played their part in creating an atmosphere fitting for such a huge sporting occasion. The feedback from competitors has been overwhelmingly positive, both during the events and away from the venues. Looking ahead, my focus is now on ensuring a long lasting and sustainable legacy from the Games for the people of the North. 
“Everyone can be proud of the World Police and Fire Games 2013. It is a powerful example of what we can achieve when we work in partnership. As Minister I am pleased to acknowledge this and say thank you to all those involvedAll that remains to be said now is best of luck to Fairfax for World Police and Fire Games 2015.”


Ford says we need to build on our progress

If the slogan for 2012 was "Our Time Our Place" then this year we should be shouting "We Can Do It". 

That was the message from Justice Minister David Ford speaking ahead of the closing ceremony for the 2013 World Police and Fire Games. 

The Minister, however, warned that progress made should not be taken for granted and work still needs to be done on a number of issues.

David Ford said: "The image of Northern Ireland has been riding high across the world through our ability to deliver the most peaceful G8 Summit ever and what Mike Graham, President of the WPFG Federation, called both the friendliest and the best World Police and Fire Games. These things do not happen by chance and a lot of people are to be thanked for their efforts. 

"In 2007 it was announced that the games were coming to Northern Ireland and since then Dame Mary Peters, Patron of 2013 WPFG, has been a tireless champion for the Games.

"The board of the company set up to deliver the games was very effectively led by Judith Gillespie, Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I have no doubt Judith is very proud of the successes achieved by her officers across a wide range of sports.

"Delivering 56 sports at 41 venues for around 7000 competitors would not have been possible without the selfless contributions made by over 3000 volunteers who played a massive part in making these the 'friendliest games ever'.

"As minister with responsibility for the police and prison services I thank all those officers, serving and retired, who participated and made our visitors welcome. The people of Northern Ireland also opened their hearts and came out in their thousands to watch very varied and exciting competitions.

"I hope that when the competitors return home and are asked about their experiences, their first comments will reflect the positive experiences they had and not the disgraceful violent scenes played out in the very heart of Belfast.

"Those who go out to create trouble on our streets must be sidelined by the greater majority, who have shown they will support new things, such as the Games. There can be no excuses for attacking police officers, who for too many years have put themselves forward to protect our community. Northern Ireland has moved on and troublemakers need to realise that fact. Actions by some cannot be used by others as an excuse for lawbreaking. 

"Those of us in politics have an obvious role in showing mature leadership, talking through the difficult issues and coming up with solutions that can help deliver a truly shared future. Next month, as we begin all-party talks, that will be a challenge we must meet and overcome. The progress made in many areas over recent years must be used as a solid foundation for moving ahead not squandered over disputes where no-one wins." 

Ford condemns Belfast violence

Justice Minister David Ford has said there can be no excuses for the violence during which 26 police officers were injured.

David Ford said: "Violence is wrong and no cause, no dispute, no disagreement can justify it. The scenes of loyalist protesters attacking the police service will quickly replace the positive images many have worked hard to deliver in recent weeks.  

"Some individuals and groups may not agree with determinations from the Parades Commission, but they do have the weight of the law behind them. Until we come up with an alternative way to deal with contentious parades the police are required to put themselves in the front line to uphold those determinations. 

"There were no winners last night, but I know there will be losers amongst the retailers and communities directly affected. I am confident that over the coming days and weeks those involved in the violence will be the main losers as the police begin gathering evidence and carrying out arrests.    

"I thank the officers who were on duty in Belfast and send my best wishes to those injured." 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sports Minister congratulates Smyth on sprint double

The Sports Minister has congratulated Eglinton sprinter Jason Smyth on his second gold medal at the IPC World Championships in Lyon. Jason Smyth won gold in the T 13 100m finals, after coming first in the T 13 200m final earlier in the week.

Carál Ní Chuilín said: “There is no doubting Jason Smyth’s quality as a sprinter. Clinching his second gold medal this week in record time is another excellent achievement. I extend my warmest congratulations to you.

"Both Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop are inspirational athletes. A year on from the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is tremendous to see our local elite athletes continuing to do so well on the world stage."

Too many people are dying from drugs misuse

Too many people are dying from drugs misuse – that was the message from Health Minister Edwin Poots following a meeting with the PSNI and community organisations.

Speaking following the meeting the Minister said; “The recent deaths of eight people in Northern Ireland are tragic and my thoughts and sympathies are with the families but I must make it clear that this is by no means an isolated incident. Around 110 people died last year as a result of drugs misuse, whether that’s prescription drugs or illegal drugs - about nine people per month. This is far too many and totally unacceptable. No drugs are safe, the illegal drugs industry is not regulated and people have absolutely no idea what they are putting into their bodies so I urge people to think again before taking any illegal drugs.

“We must all work together to tackle this scourge on our communities, from the health service, the PSNI and into our community groups. We are all on the same team with the same dream in mind – that our streets are free from drugs and our children can grow up without the temptation drugs can bring. I want to reassure the public that all key agencies are working together to prevent and address the, potentially fatal, harm that substance misuse has on our communities.”

The Minister received an update from the PSNI on what is being done to prevent illegal substances being brought into Northern Ireland and the work being undertaken to tackle drug dealing. Mr Poots was also joined at the meeting with representatives from FASA (Forum for Alcohol and Substance Abuse), ASCERT (Action on Substances through Community Education and Related Training).

The Minister continued; “I am particularly concerned about the ongoing availability of new psychoactive substances (often mislabelled legal highs). These substances are not safe and in many cases when tested they have been found to contain banned drugs. Therefore, by taking these substances you are risking your health, and also risking being prosecuted.

“I will be writing to the Home Office asking that we work together to strengthen legislation in this area and put in place mechanism to close down those selling these substances. I believe this would send a very clear message that taking any substance that hasn’t been prescribed for you comes with real risks.” 

For more information and help, log onto nidirect 

Monday, 22 July 2013

First Minister congratulates Duke and Duchess of Cambridge‬

‪‬‪First Minister the Rt. Hon. Peter D. Robinson MLA has offered his warmest congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their son.‬
The First Minister said: "I congratulate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their son. I want to extend my very best wishes to them on behalf of everyone in Northern Ireland.‬

‪I was honoured to attend the celebration of their wedding in April 2011 and I wish them every health and happiness in the next chapter of their lives together."‬

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Ni Chuilin congratulates Ireland on qualifying for 2015 World Cup

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has congratulated Ireland on qualifying for the 2015 Cricket World Cup.

The Minister said "This is terrific news for cricket in Ireland. Qualification for the Cricket World Cup gives Ireland the chance to compete on the global stage and is another step closer to full participation at test cricket level.

"All credit to the Irish team on their fine display today. We all look forward to many enjoyable cricketing encounters in the run up to and during 2015 Cricket World Cup."

Statement in response to Superseal press release

In response to the comments from Superseal earlier today, a DSD Spokesperson said: “Minister McCausland has not suspended any double glazing replacement programmes nor did he order a review of contracts. Following advice from his Departmental technical staff he did ask the NIHE to review their specification for replacement window installation, something which the NIHE confirmed they had already commenced.

"Last year, 12/13, 8,660 Housing Executive homes were double glazed, 9,000 are planned for this year leaving approximately 4,000 to be completed in 14/15 thereby completing the PFG target to have all Housing Executive homes double glazed by 2015. This must be viewed against the NIHE’s original plans to double glaze its stock by 2021. Had Minister McCausland not increased the installation programme to install double glazing in all NIHE homes there would still be thousands of homes left with drafty single glazed frames.”

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Sports Minister applauds victorious sportsmen and women.

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has applauded local sportsmen and women following victories in golf, cycling and boxing over the weekend.
The Minister said:”This has been a tremendous weekend for golf, cycling and women’s boxing.  Graeme McDowell has done us all proud again by winning the French Open in Paris – his third win this year.   
“Dan Martin has claimed a first stage victory on the Tour de France, a terrific personal achievement and Ireland’s first Tour de France stage winner since 1992.
“And Belfast youth light-flyweight Kristina O’Hara was among five Irish gold medallists at the European Women’s Senior, Youth and Junior Championships in Hungary which also included Olympic Champion Katie Taylor.  The Ireland squad also won three silver and seven bronze medals – a fantastic result for women’s boxing.
“Long hours of training as well as individual skill and endurance have contributed to each of these victories.  You have shone on an international stage, competing with the best in the world and becoming heroes yet again in the process. Congratulations to all of you.” 
Notes to Editors:
For media enquiries please contact DCAL Communications Office 028 9051 5047. Out of office hours, contact the EIS Duty Press Officer on pager 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Department of Justice – Proud to be at Pride

Justice Minister David Ford has visited Justice Corner at the Belfast Pride Festival.

Justice Corner offers an opportunity for a one-stop for visitors to discuss a range of criminal justice matters with officials. It includes stands from the Department of Justice, the Youth Justice Agency, the Policing Board, the Courts and Tribunals Service and the Public Prosecution Service.

The Department used the opportunity of Justice Corner to highlight a number of its ongoing initiatives such as the delivery of the community Safety Strategy (including tackling hate crime) and the ongoing work to improve the services for victims and witnesses of crime.

In wishing the organisers and visitors a successful day David Ford said: “Pride provides an excellent opportunity for staff from my Department, and other organisations in the justice sector, to talk to members of the LGBT community, their friends and family, about issues important to them. 

“This is the third year the Department has been represented at the event and this year visitors can find out about our support for victims and witnesses and on the delivery of the Community Safety Strategy which aims to build safer, shared and confident communities. 

“The Youth Justice Agency is also availing of the occasion to seek views on how to most effectively support victims of hate crime. 

“This is an important and worthwhile engagement event and I welcome the fact the justice sector is represented and it is only fitting that I am here to offer them support and thank them for their work in this field.”

More information...

The Department of Justice Community Safety Strategy 2012-2017 'Building Safer, Shared and Confident Communities' aims to build:
  • Safer communities, with lower levels of crime and anti-social behaviour;
  • Shared communities, where each person’s rights are respected in a shared and cohesive community; and
  • Confident communities, where people feel safe and have confidence in the agencies that serve them.
The Community Safety Strategy can be downloaded from the Department’s website.

The DOJ Victim and Witnesses Strategy and Action Plan can be found on the 
Department’s website

Culture Minister joins in Belfast Pride celebrations

Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín attended the Belfast Pride parade in the city today. 

The Minister said: “Over the years, as a supporter of Pride, I have been heartened to see it grow and develop from a small event into one of Belfast’s biggest festivals. The LGBT community has, together with other progressive people across society, courageously faced down bigotry and inequality. 

“Today Pride stands as a city-wide celebration of the LGBT community. It is a friendly, fun, inclusive festival, which brings together people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. It also reflects an increasingly vibrant, tolerant and diverse city.” 

Usually held in August, the 2013 Pride events were moved forward by a month to facilitate the World Police and Fire Games. 

The Minister continued: “Belfast Pride is supported by DCAL’s Community Festivals Fund. Also the LGBT community has a strong tradition of creative expression through arts and culture. As Minister I want to acknowledge and applaud this, and pledge my continued support for initiatives from and for the gay community. 

“But today is an opportunity for Belfast to celebrate the positive social, economic, cultural and creative value of the LGBT community in they city's civic life, and most of all to celebrate the fine tradition of equality which must be at the heart of our society going forward. Pride is a festival which Belfast can genuinely be proud of."

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Statement from Education Minister following SELB vote on post-primary provision

The Southern Education and Library Board have today taken a vote on the future of post-primary provision in the controlled sector within the Craigavon area.

The SELB have voted in favour of Option A which was supported by five of the seven schools within the Dickson plan system. This option envisages the reorganisation of post-primary education in the Portadown, Lurgan and Tandragee areas resulting in new bi-lateral schools with both selective and non-selective intakes. A Development Proposal to give effect to the changes proposed under Option A will now be published in the autumn and, following a statutory period of consultation, the final decision on whether to grant approval will rest with the Minister of Education.

Minister O’Dowd said:  “I have been informed that at its monthly meeting today, the SELB have supported the recommendation of the advisory sub-committee for controlled schools by backing Option A. 

“However, it is important to note that today’s decision by the Board is only part of the process.  Any significant change to the existing provision requires the publication of a statutory Development Proposal (DP) to support that intent.  Following publication of a DP a two month consultation period begins to allow all interested and affected parties an opportunity to submit their comments/views on the proposal.  At the end of the 2-month period, I will make a decision taking account of all the relevant and pertinent information and the comments received in regards the proposal.

“I will be happy to meet with schools, elected representatives, parents, pupils and other interested parties throughout the consultation process and will listen to their views and concerns before I make a final decision.”

Schools counselling has huge impact on young people’s mental health – O’Dowd

Counselling in school can have a significant positive impact on young people’s mental wellbeing.

That was the message from Education Minister, John O’Dowd, as he launched a report by Children’s Law Centre advisory group youth@clc into young people’s views on counselling in schools.

Speaking during a launch event in Parliament Buildings, the Minister said: “Professional counselling can be a massive support to a young person in distress. I have received many comments to this effect from pupils and staff during school visits and I know there is research available to back up this view too. This new report from youth@clc provides further evidence from those who are directly affected by school counselling – the young people themselves – and I welcome the opportunity to launch it.

“We as educationalists all face the challenge of encouraging young people to firstly recognise when they have a problem and, secondly, to seek help. There can be a stigma attached to seeking such help but I hope that the work of youth@clc, including this report, is helping to reduce any such concerns among young people. The key message to young people is that there is no shame in asking for help and that no one has to face their problems alone.

“I was struck, too, by the live performance of ‘Opening Doors’ that I attended recently at the MAC. This profound and affecting play staged by youth@clc is, I hope, helping change the attitudes of young people towards mental health.

“Over 900 counselling sessions are already provided every week by the Independent Counselling Service for Schools (ICSS). Although from one point of view this is indicative of a worrying level of distress among pupils here, I am encouraged at the uptake of the help that is available, which serves to further underline the importance of what the ICSS does.”

The Minister continued: “The youth@clc report makes six key recommendations and I plan to give them all consideration when shaping the future delivery of counselling in schools here. I commend everyone at youth@clc for the hard work and expertise they have put into compiling the report and thank them for this opportunity to launch the report’s findings.”

More information...

1. The Children’s Law Centre (CLC) works to promote the rights of children. It is the only local children’s legal charity. CLC provides free legal information, advice and representation including a free phone legal advice line for children, CHALKY. CLC also offers training and research on children’s rights, and makes submissions on law, policy and practice affecting children and young people. youth@clc is CLC’s youth advisory group.

2. Between June and November 2012, youth@clc carried out a survey of the views of Year 11 pupils on the counselling service offered by their school. The survey was conducted in 13 schools (955 pupils), across the Belfast Education and Library Board and South Eastern Education and Library Board areas. The survey was funded by the Big Lottery – Awards for All project.

3. The Department of Education’s ‘Education Works’ campaign encourages families to play, talk, read and count with their child and to ‘Get Involved Because Education Works’.The campaign highlights the vital role families can play in helping children do well at school and improve their life chances. Visit more information.

Watch the TV ad on the Department’s YouTube channel:

4. See photos from the Department of Education in our collection at

5. Media enquiries to the Department of Education’s Communications Team on Tel:028 9127 9207. Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number07699715440 and your call will be returned.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

O’Dowd outlines current position on Dickson plan

20 June 2013

O’Dowd outlines current position on Dickson plan

Education Minister, John O’Dowd has clarified the current position on the Dickson plan in light of media reports today.

The Minister said: “There has been much debate over the past few months on the future of the Dickson plan within the Craigavon area. This debate has intensified in recent days following an Assembly debate and in particular, media reports today.

“Firstly, I want to point out that any proposals in relation to the Dickson Plan are not my proposals. It is a matter for the relevant managing authorities in the first instance to determine the appropriate structure of future provision for children living in the Dickson Plan area.

“Following the public consultation on the draft Post-primary Area Plan, the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) issued an options paper to the Boards of Governors of all of the controlled post-primary schools in the Dickson Plan.

“The paper summarised the main options arising from the area plan consultation and asked for Boards’ of Governors views. This consultation with the Boards of Governors is not a ballot with results deciding the outcome of the process. Rather, the returns will be taken into account, by the SELB, alongside all other evidence and data, including departmental policy, when deciding the way forward.

“Any significant change to the existing provision requires the publication of a statutory Development Proposal (DP) to support that intent. Following publication of a DP a two month objection period begins to allow all interested and affected parties an opportunity to submit their comments/views on the proposal. At the end of the 2-month period, I will make a decision taking account of all the relevant and pertinent information and the comments received both for and against the proposal.”

The Minister continued: “There seems to be a misconception that the Dickson plan is an example of excellence and I have even heard the term ‘world class’ used to describe it. The reality is that while some schools and pupils are performing well there is room for improvement and the system is certainly not world class. That does not mean that we don’t have world class teachers and staff working within that system. Indeed, I have visited schools and met many staff within the Dickson plan area and I have always been impressed by their dedication and professionalism. However, I do believe that they are being failed by the system they are working in.

“With regard to educational attainment, the school leavers data for 2011/12 shows that the Dickson Plan schools underperformed compared with the overall and the SELB averages for pupils achieving 5+ GCSEs at A* to C including GCSE English and GCSE Maths and for 3+A Levels at A*-C.

“I’ve been told more than once this week, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ but the fact is that much of the Dickson plan is broken and I believe the system does need to be fixed.”

The Minister concluded by saying: “Area Planning is about providing strong, vibrant schools delivering high quality education by using the limited resources available efficiently and effectively. In that context, it is my firm view that the Dickson plan is no longer fit for purpose.

“The Catholic education sector in Craigavon propose moving away from the Dickson Plan and academic selection. I believe that the best course of action for the controlled sector is to do likewise for the educational benefit of all children and young people in that sector.”

Notes to editors:
Media enquiries, contact the Department of Education Press Office on 028 9127 9207. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440.

Follow the Executive online:

This is an automated distribution service - please do not reply to this email address.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Sports Minister congratulates Belfast's boxing heroes


8 June 2013

Sports Minister  Carál Ní Chuilín has congratulated Belfast boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan on winning silver medals at the European Boxing Championships.

Paddy Barnes had to pull out of his final fight because of injury but secured a silver medal in the light fly- weight class and Michael Conlan won silver in the fly-weight class at 2013 European Championships at the Palace of Sports in Minsk, Belarus.

Congratulating both boxers the Minister said: "Throughout these Championships Michael and Paddy have demonstrated why they are outstanding athletes. Yet again they have taken local boxing to an international stage proving that they are ambassadors for their sport and their communities.

“The entire Irish team have had a great Championship with John Joe Nevin  and Jason Quigley winning gold medals.

“Congratulations to all of the squad even those who have not reached the finals, it has been a tremendous week of boxing and I am pleased that  the tradition of boxing success on this island continues to grow from strength to strength."

Notes to editors:

For media enquiries please contact DCAL Communications Office 028 9051 5047. Out of office hours, contact the EIS Duty Press Officer on pager 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.

Sports Minister congratulates Michael Dunlop following TT success


8 June 2013

Sports Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, has congratulated Michael Dunlop on four wins at this year’s Isle of Man TT.

The Minister said: “This is a tremendous achievement for Michael. I am sure many in his hometown of Ballymoney have been cheering on his every success. To win four races and set new record lap times is an outstanding performance. I want to congratulate him on this incredible personal achievement.

“I understand, however, that, following an incident at racing yesterday, a number of spectators were injured and taken to hospital. It is for this reason that I have been encouraging the governing body of the sport in the north of Ireland to take whatever steps necessary to address public concerns about safety within the sport. This includes the development and publication of a safety code of practice which sets out clear safety standards for competitors, spectators and officials.”

Notes to Editors:

1. For media enquiries please contact DCAL Communications Office 028 9051 5047. Out of office hours, contact the EIS Duty Press Officer on pager 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Robinson and McGuinness strengthen links with China

First Minister Rt Hon Peter D Robinson MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA today arrived in Beijing to strengthen government to government relations and to further develop trade, investment, cultural and university links.

The First and deputy First Ministers met Madam Li Xiaolin, President of Chinese Peoples Association for Friendship and Foreign Countries, in Beijing.

Speaking on the first day of the visit the First Minister said: “Just over a year ago we had the pleasure of hosting Vice President Madam Liu and her colleagues to Belfast. During the visit we opened the Confucius Institute at the University of Ulster and signed a number of partnership agreements with Queen’s University Belfast.

“Following the visit of Madam Liu our relationship with China has grown stronger. This week we will talk to key Chinese government departments to explore how we can further develop existing links.

“This year we are hosting the World Police and Fire Games and 200 competitors from China are already registered to participate, we hope many more will visit and bring their families for what will be a very enjoyable experience.”

The deputy First Minister said: “We are encouraged with the growing relationship we have with China and we hope through our series of meetings in Beijing we will be able to identify more mutually beneficial areas of work. I hope we will see more exchanges between our young people and partnerships between our universities in the future.

“This is a significant year for the north of Ireland with my home city of Derry~Londonderry hosting the year-long City of Culture Programme. There will be a feast of cultural events, ranging from traditional Irish and Scots-Irish music and dance to theatre and the Turner Art Exhibition. We hope to see many of our friends from China visiting us over the coming months and years, to study, do business and to enjoy the experience.”

More information...

​The China market is worth in excess of £110 million in terms of exports by Northern Ireland companies.

Friday, 17 May 2013

O’Neill launches fodder aid

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said today that the Executive’s emergency fodder aid would be available from midnight on Saturday 18 May.

Announcing the opening of the scheme, the Minister said: “I am conscious that many farmers face a crisis today. I am therefore keen to make this support aid available as early as possible. It will apply to all fodder shipped into the north of Ireland from Britain or other EU member states from midnight on Saturday, subject to certain conditions.”

The scheme will be operated by Countryside Services on behalf of the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It will provide a subsidy, based on a standard tonnage rate (or an equivalent rate per bale according to size) in respect of forage imported through Belfast, Larne and Warrenpoint where the Department’s Portal staff will certify the imports. The importer will require a completed receipt form from individual farmers who will acknowledge that they intend to use it to remedy a shortage in the immediate future.

The Minister concluded: “My objective is to increase the supply of feed in the north as quickly as possible. I want assistance to farmers to apply from Saturday midnight so that there is no risk of an interruption in supply of fodder. By taking immediate action, I hope to sustain local farmers who are suffering due to an unprecedented shortage of fodder. The scheme will initially operate until midnight on 31 May 2013, and I will be monitoring conditions closely in the hope that they improve.”

Any farmers who have any immediate queries about the scheme should refer to the Countryside Services website from the morning of Saturday 18th May 2013. Further information will be available from Countryside Services on Monday 20th May on 028 87 789770.

More information...

List of Hauliers currently participating in the 2013 Fodder Transport Scheme who can be contacted directly are:

Harold Bothwell 07889 809193

Adrian Cathers 07899 967849

Richard Hawkes 07802 617172

Philip McCorry 07712 644885

Colin Newell 07779 600238

Sam Sloan 07802 698383

Other information relating to the scheme can be found on the Countryside Services website at and from Monday 20 May 2013 on 028 877 89770.

List of Participating hauliers is correct at the time of going to Press.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Helping shape a strategy on money matters

Many of us find managing our personal finances increasingly more complex and challenging, especially in the current economic climate. Whether you;re saving for a special item, paying off debts or just planning a personal or family budget, keeping control of your money is central to maintaining a good quality of life.

Are you financially capable?

Financially capable consumers have the information, skills, and competence to reduce money-related stress by, for example, improving their personal finances and dealing more effectively with problem debt.

Highlighting the importance of good money management, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “Financial capability is about equipping consumers with the skills, knowledge and information they need to manage, plan, and take responsibility for their financial affairs.

“Essentially, financial capability is a key life skill that is needed by everyone in our society, irrespective of their age, gender, marital status, or their level of income.

"I would encourage everyone with an interest to attend the consultation events and contribute to the development of this important strategy. These are challenging times and we cannot afford to miss this opportunity to improve the financial capability of Northern Ireland consumers.”

Have your say

With this in mind, The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) has launched a consultation on a draft Financial Capability Strategy for Northern Ireland Consumers.

As part of the consultation process, DETI is hosting a consultation event between 2pm and 5pm on Thursday 30 May at Belfast Central Mission to offer stakeholders an opportunity to help formulate the Strategy.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment consultation event will take place between 2pm and 5pm on Thursday 30 May at Belfast Central Mission, Grosvenor House, 5 Glengall Street, Belfast BT12 5AD and forms part of the 12 week consultation which runs from 1 May to 31 July 2013.

Consultation events are also being held at the following venues:
  • Tuesday 21 May (2pm - 5pm) - CAFRE Loughry Campus, 76 Dungannon Road, Cookstown BT80 9AA
  • Wednesday 22 May (2pm - 5pm) - The Playhouse Theatre, 5-7 Artillery St, Londonderry, BT48 6RG
  • Thursday 6 June (2pm - 5pm) - Craigavon Leisure Centre, Brownlow Road, Craigavon BT65 6DL
The consultation paper and accompanying research based evidence is available to download from the DETI website at the link below:

Financial Capability Strategy Consultation - DETI website

You can request a hard copy using the contact information below:

Financial Capability Branch
Room 53, Netherleigh
Massey Avenue
Belfast BT4 2JP

Tel: (028) 90 529462 or (028) 90 529634

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

O’Dowd outlines position on future of rural schools

Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has outlined what he is doing to address the needs of children in rural communities.
The Minister was speaking in the Assembly today during a debate on the future of rural schools.
Speaking about the importance of a high quality education for all pupils, the Minister said: “Since September 2011 my focus has been on ‘Putting Pupils First’ through creating a high quality education system that will enrich the lives of all young people.   I want to ensure that children living in rural areas have access to the same high quality education as those living in urban areas.
“My focus is on the children in rural communities and not on the school buildings.  Schools are there to serve the needs of the children who attend them. 
“Our geography means there will always be a need for a significant number of small rural schools and the Sustainable Schools Policy takes account of this, through the inclusion of a lower enrolment threshold for rural primary schools.  Furthermore, the ‘strong links with the community’ criterion takes account of the contribution the school makes to the local community including the use made of school buildings and the level of parental involvement.”

Addressing parental concerns on school closures, the Minister said: “Let me emphasise once again that schools will not close simply because they fall below thresholds.  Where it can be clearly demonstrated that a small school is needed then it should be retained and supported to ensure that quality education is the predominant characteristic of that school.

“The Sustainable Schools Policy does not seek a one-model-fits-all solution to the problems brought about by demographic decline.  Rather, it provides a consistent framework within which any review of a school’s viability can be handled carefully and sensitively, taking account of local circumstances on a case-by-case basis.”

In conclusion, the Minister commented on the legal process that the Education and Library Boards and the Department must comply with.  He said: “Any significant change to the schools estate requires the publication of a statutory development proposal.  This involves widespread public consultation, giving local communities every opportunity to make their views known.  I encourage communities and schools to involve themselves in this process and provide robust solutions which will result in a strong vibrant schools estate.  I will look seriously at innovative solutions that are about educating children and not just about keeping schools open.”

More information

Education and Library Boards have published draft primary area plans which are open for public consultation until 30 June. Visit to view the plans and leave a response.

The Department of Education has launched a new ‘Education Works’ advertising campaign. The campaign encourages families to play, talk, read and count with their child and to ‘Get Involved Because Education Works’. Watch out for the ads on television, radio and outdoor locations. The campaign highlights the vital role families can play in helping children do well at school and improve their life chances. Visit for more information.

Watch the TV ad on the Department’s YouTube channel:

See photos from the Department of Education in our collection at

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

O'Dowd comments following death of pupil.

Education Minister John O’Dowd has spoken following the tragic death of a primary school pupil during a school trip to Scotland.

Mr O’Dowd said: “It was with deep sadness and regret that I heard about the death of a pupil from Whiteabbey Primary School while on a school trip. My thoughts are with the child’s family and indeed the pupils, teachers and wider school community at what is a profoundly distressing time.
“The North Eastern Education and Library Board stands ready to provide support, including access to counselling, to the pupils and teachers in the days and weeks ahead.”

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Robinson and McGuinness confirm production of Game of Thrones Series 4 in Northern Ireland

The First Minister Rt Hon Peter D Robinson MLA and the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA confirmed the production of Game of Thrones Series four in Belfast with other filming across local locations.

The Ministers confirmed the return of filming for series four following the announcement by Michael Lombardo, president, Home Box Office (HBO) Programming, that HBO has renewed GAME OF THRONES for a fourth season. Based on the bestselling fantasy book series by George R.R. Martin, GAME OF THRONES is an epic story of treachery and nobility. Series four will receive funding from NI Screen, supported by Invest NI and part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

The Ministers met with senior HBO executives at the Season 3 premiere in Los Angeles last month, where they took the opportunity to continue to press Northern Ireland’s advantage as a first-class production location, as well as the benefits afforded by the upcoming television tax breaks for the UK, in which the Executive, Northern Ireland Screen and HBO played important roles.

The First Minister said: "Securing the filming of series four is proof that Northern Ireland can host large-scale productions with positive spin-off into other sectors such tourism where we can showcase stunning locations such as the Causeway Coast and Glens, Ballintoy, Murlough Bay to name but a few.

"The success of Game of Thrones shows our commitment to leave no stone unturned when seeking to secure such international productions. We travelled to Los Angeles to press the case for the Northern Ireland film industry and to encourage HBO to return to film their fourth series.

"We have seen the economic impact of an estimated £65million across the three seasons and we want to grow our local film industry to attract more international projects of this scale.”

The deputy First Minister said: "Meeting with HBO senior Executives at the launch of Game of Thrones Series Three in Los Angeles last month shows we are prepared to go the extra mile to secure such an internationally renowned production for our local film industry. The credibility associated with a project of this scale has significant potential for our economy.

"A very important part of this large-scale inward investing production is the training and skills development for the local industry.

"We are focused on maximising the economic value of series four and build on the employment levels of the previous series where over 800 people were working on the production.

"NI Screen is working in partnership with the NI Tourist Board and Titanic Belfast to exploit the success of HBO's production through the Game of Thrones Exhibition in June.”

Friday, 29 March 2013

Response from Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland on Mark Durkan’s comments today in relation to under occupancy

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has responded to Mark H. Durkan's comments on under occupancy.

“Mr Durkan’s comments are completely inaccurate and to suggest I am burying my head in the sand is simply ridiculous.

“I have reiterated time and time again in both in the Assembly and in media interviews my concerns with this element of welfare reform. Some time ago I asked social landlords to ensure that they had considered all options to prevent tenants being evicted from their homes or being made homeless as a result of these changes. I asked both the Housing Executive and the Housing Association movement to bring forward detailed action plans to provide a range of support measures for those households affected. No guidelines were issued by my department.

“I will be continuing to work with my Executive colleagues to ensure the most vulnerable people here are protected as welfare changes are implemented across the UK.

“In addition, over the last few weeks, I published a series of in depth research reports on the Northern Ireland impacts of welfare reform proposals. This research was shared extensively among my Assembly colleagues, the Social Development Committee of which Mr Durkan is a part, the media and stakeholder organisations.

“While a number of elements of the Welfare Reform Act (GB) 2012 are due to be implemented in Great Britain in the coming weeks, these will not begin in Northern Ireland until the Welfare Reform Bill (NI) 2012 has become law and the necessary regulations have been put in place. This Bill is currently making its way through the legislative process at the Northern Ireland Assembly and the next step in the legislative process is Consideration Stage, which will begin on 16 April 2013.”

Monday, 25 March 2013

Roads Service update on winter service response

The operation of snow clearing during the recent severe spell of winter weather has been continuing with all available Roads Service plant being deployed to assist the areas worst affected. 

These operations have been enhanced by the introduction of over 130 items of large plant including tracked excavators and quarry shovels provided by private contractors and Rivers Agency. 

Over the last few days crews have been gritting around 7000km of our roads in a single run. Roads Service vehicles spread around 1000 tonnes of salt on every run at a cost of £80,000. Routes are often salted three times during the night equating to a cost across Northern Ireland of around a quarter of a million pounds.

Roads Service has provided the following details which are current as of tonight 25 March.
  • The salted network in Western Division is 100% clear of snow and the unsalted network is 99% clear;
  • The salted network in Northern Division is 100% clear of snow and the unsalted network is 89% clear. Northern Division has experienced the worst of the severe weather and can confirm that today 97% of its totals network is now enabling the movement of traffic;
  • The salted network in Southern Division is almost 100% clear with the exception of Spelga pass which is in the Mournes. On the unsalted network 96% is clear;
  • The salted network in Eastern Division is over 95% clear whilst the unsalted network is over 90% clear.
These figures are changing hour by hour as Roads Service continue to make every effort to ensure the full network is accessible to traffic as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Robinson and McGuinness pitch for more filming projects

First Minister Rt Hon Peter D. Robinson MLA and the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA were in Los Angeles to pitch for more filming projects after the success of HBO's 'Game of Thrones'.

HBO invited the Ministers to attend the launch of the third successful series of 'Game of Thrones' which was filmed at Titanic Studios in Belfast.

The First Minister said: "The Northern Ireland Executive is committed to growing a dynamic, innovative economy. Through investment in our creative industries, Northern Ireland will continue to build on its reputation across the world as an excellent location to invest. 

"Northern Ireland Screen, through its funding support from Invest NI, has provided HBO with assistance of £6.05million, under the Northern Ireland Screen Fund, to secure the pilot episode and the first two series of this award winning medieval fantasy drama. 

"Game of Thrones has generated up to £65million direct spend in the local economy. We will continue to build on our highly successful relationship with HBO and have made a strong argument for any further series to continue to be filmed in Northern Ireland. 

"Investment of £8million in the Titanic Studios in Belfast, supported by Invest NI demonstrates a real confidence in our film and television sector."

The deputy First Minister said: "The film industry is an important sector for our economy and offers huge potential for further growth. HBO'S Emmy award-winning 'Game of Thrones' has created 800 jobs and contributed millions to the local economy. Its success provides the perfect platform to pitch for more film making projects from this important niche market.

"Through the work of NI Screen we have secured major film and television productions and now with the 100,000 square feet Titanic Studio facility in Belfast we hope to build on our international appeal as a global hub for the creative industries."

Northern Ireland Screen is the lead organisation in developing the film, television and digital content industry.