Saturday, 17 November 2012

Robinson and McGuinness promote local tourism at the Hong Kong Open

First Minister Rt. Hon. Peter D. Robinson MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP MLA promoted local tourism at the UBS Hong Kong Open.

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are pictured with Keith Williams (Manager of Hong Kong Golf Club) during a tour of the competition this afternoon.

The Ministers attended the tournament at the Hong Kong Golf Club, in Fanling, at the end of their week-long business mission to China.

Ministers are pictured holding the Ryder Cup with Mr Chi-Won Yoon, Chief Executive Officer of UBS Asia Pacific, the major sponsor of the Hong Kong Open.

The First Minister said: “The participation and success of local golfers has shone the international spotlight on Northern Ireland giving us the ideal opportunity to promote tourism.

“China is a significant emerging market and that is why we are working to build awareness of Northern Ireland as a tourism destination. Golf tourism currently generates over £14 million per year for the local economy in Northern Ireland, with the average spend per golf visitor coming in at £300-£450, significantly higher than the average visitor spend.”

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are pictured with Jamie Birkmyre, Championship Director of the UBS Hong Kong Open during a tour of the competition.

The deputy First Minister added: “As our golfers continue to play at the highest level of competitive golf around the world, more people will want to come to play the courses that our local golfers enjoy, and this will increase tourism spend in our local economy.

“Tournaments, such as the Hong Kong Open, represent a window to the world to gain further widespread exposure, and we are working to make the most of the opportunities created by our world-class golfers. Promoting our golf offering to an international audience and capitalising on the current global interest in our local golfers will help grow tourism here."

Ministers congratulate JP McManus scholarship recipients

Education Minister, John O’Dowd and Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry have congratulated the recipients of the JP McManus All Ireland Scholarship Scheme at a ceremony in Limerick.

The scheme, funded by JP McManus, provides financial assistance to students across Ireland from low-income households who are intending to take up higher education places.

Former US President Bill Clinton presented certificates to the 125 winning students, including 25 young people from the north. Ministers O’ Dowd and Farry were also recognised for their support of the All-Ireland Scholarship at the event.

Speaking from the University of Limerick Concert Hall, Education Minister, John O’Dowd said: “Many young people are keen to move on to higher education in order to develop their skills and pursue specific career goals. However those from low income families can find the financial costs associated with higher education to be a barrier to pursuing this career and study path. JP McManus’s continued investment and commitment to the All Ireland scholarships is to be commended. His generous support is particularly welcome at a time when many families are facing increased financial pressures.

“The skills and qualifications acquired through higher education can broaden horizons and prospects, benefiting not only the individual but also our wider communities. The value of these awards is therefore worth much more than the monetary cost; they offer the opportunity of third level education to young people who may previously not have had that option.

“I want to congratulate all of the recipients on their hard work and wish them every success in the future in their chosen studies and careers.”

Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry said: “I commend JP McManus for his continued generosity in providing these scholarships. The vision and practical support of people like him from the world of business shows that philanthropy can make a real difference to the lives of students looking to gain all the benefits from higher education. The award of a scholarship brings with it prestige but it also brings with it responsibility. I know our students will discharge that responsibility and will use their award to lay the foundations for successful and fulfilling careers that will not only be of benefit to them but also the wider economy.

“My Department’s recently published Widening Participation Strategy, Access to Success, demonstrates my commitment to ensuring that those who are most able but least likely to participate in higher education should be given every encouragement and support to achieve the necessary qualifications to apply to, and to benefit from, the higher education that is right for them. This Scholarship will help to support this commitment to widening participation by ensuring that all young people, irrespective of their background, have the opportunity to access higher education.”

The All Ireland scholarships provide financial assistance for up to 25 students per year, in the north, for studies at Undergraduate level. Scholarships are worth £5,500 per year with recipients coming from low income households and in receipt of Educational Maintenance Allowance. The ceremony took place on Saturday 17 November in the University of Limerick Concert Hall.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Freezing car parking charges until 2015 will give boost to city centres - Kennedy

Transport Minister Danny Kennedy has welcomed the decision from the Executive not to increase car parking charges.

Speaking after the Executive meeting today the Minister said: “My officials and I have been working hard to gain agreement for the freeze on car parking charges in this budget period and I am pleased that the Executive has come to an agreement on this issue. 

“This is exactly the sort of mechanism we need to give a confidence boost to traders and those who shop and work in our towns and cities and it illustrates that elected representatives can deliver positively for our own people. 

“I believe that this will be warmly welcomed by shoppers and traders in town centres and it comes at an opportune time in the run up to Christmas.”

Glyn Roberts NIIRTA Chief Executive also welcomed the decision. He said: “This is a very welcome development which NIIRTA has been lobbying for to give our town and city centres more support in these difficult times. This is an early Christmas present to both local traders and shoppers and we appreciate the efforts of Minister Kennedy in securing Executive agreement on this.”

The Minister concluded: “This freeze, combined with the package of measures to support retailers and consumers I announced on Monday, will give a much-needed boost to our local economy and encourage people to get the most out of our town and city centres this Christmas.”

The freeze on car parking will be for the remainder for this budget period, i.e. until the end of March 2015. 

For full details of the measures announced on Monday 5 November 2012 please visit nidirect

Executive announces £200million economy and jobs initiative

The Executive has announced a £200million economy and jobs initiative to support people, businesses and investment.

The new measures, which include support for more than 4,600 people through skills training and employability, are additional to the commitments in the Executive’s Programme for Government and Economic Strategy.

Welcoming the measures, First Minister Peter Robinson said: “I am pleased that we are able to announce this package which will provide a significant boost to the economy in Northern Ireland and provide employment, particularly for our young people and those who have been out of work for long periods. 

“This initiative comes on top of the £26million in additional funding recently announced as part of Delivering Social Change ‘Signature Projects’ and again shows that by working together the Executive continues to deliver on our Programme for Government commitment to grow the economy and contribute to rising levels of employment by supporting the promotion of over 25,000 new jobs." 

The deputy First Minister said: “The Executive is responding flexibly to the needs of those hit hardest by the recession and taking action to ensure those out of work have access to the right training, skills and education opportunities. These employment measures are particularly focused on the needs of young people to help them get into work. 

“The Executive is already committed to delivering over £5billion of capital investment in the current budget period. To boost employment in the construction sector this package will deliver a range of new measures to improve our schools, roads and accelerate nearly £60million of capital projects.”

Supporting People

Ministers are taking action to ensure that those out of work have access to the right training, skills and education opportunities. They are particularly focused on the needs of young people and other disadvantaged groups.

There will be waged employment opportunities for 1,700 young people of a minimum of six months duration within either the private, public or voluntary and community sectors. 

Around 1,100 over-50s, who have been out of work for more than 12 months, will take up temporary paid employment of up to 26 weeks in the Community and Voluntary Sector. 

Further employer engagement with ApprenticeshipsNI will mean up to 900 additional young people will participate in the Youth Employment Scheme.

An additional 500 undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths places will be funded each year, bringing the total increase in STEM places to 1,200 by 2015. This will enhance the skills base in priority areas for the NI economy. There will also be 150 fully funded PhD places and 20 bursaries for Aerospace MSc students.

A further 500 work experience placements/training opportunities for young people will be provided across the public sector as part of DEL’s Steps to Work Programme.

Supporting Businesses

The small business rate relief scheme will be extended to provide around 3500 business ratepayers with a 20% discount.

A new Invest NI ‘Skills Growth’ scheme will be introduced for small businesses (up to 50 employees) which would provide 50% grant towards training costs. 

Car parking charges in towns and city centres will be frozen until at least 2015.

An additional £15million will be available to ensure that farmers receive more money in their Single Farm payment in 2013. This will generate additional spending power for farm business from the end of 2013 and into 2014.

There will be a new ‘Finance Voucher’ scheme to help SMEs access the specialist support they need to grow their businesses.

Streamlined and ‘fast-track’ application & approval processes will be brought in for many Invest NI business support schemes.

Supporting Investment

The Executive is already committed to delivering over £5billion of capital investment in the current budget period. To boost employment in the construction sector there will be several new measures.

More than £40million will be available to deliver a range of projects in the current financial year which will support the construction sector. This funding will see further resources being made available to:
  • improve the schools estate (including addressing the consequences of the fire damage to Arvalee Special School);
  • undertake further roads structural maintenance; street lighting maintenance; emerging works along the Antrim Coast Road; 
  • £8million additional funding for the housing co-ownership scheme.
The maintenance budget for the Schools Estate will be increased by £10million in 2013/14.

Nearly £60million of capital spending will be accelerated to allow projects to commence in 2013/14 rather than 2014/15.

A further £10million will be available in both 2013/14 and 2014/15 through the housing co-ownership scheme. 

An extra £5.7milion of funding will go to the Tourism Development Scheme which could deliver total investment of over £27.5million, supporting over 450 jobs in the construction phase and creating or sustaining approximately a further 50 tourism jobs once complete.

There will be further reforms to planning, including changes to the Permitted Development Rights regime which enables developers to undertake works without the need to apply for planning permission and revisions to the structure of planning fees to alleviate the financial burden on developers.

Ministers will be available to provide more details of the measures under the particular control of their Departments in the coming days.

Monday, 29 October 2012

#AskDE Twitter Q&A - Transcript of questions and answers

Education Minister John O'Dowd has taken part in his second Twitter Q&A.

Minister O'Dowd answered 29 questions over an hour on a range of topics. The full transcript of the Q&A is available below.

Question 1 from @he4therw4t5on

#AskDE ask the minister if he would instruct DE to actually ask teachers,principals,schools what they need? #valueourprofessionalism

#AskDE ETI chief inspector highlighted leadership as an area 4 improvement in schools.why is support 4 heads so poor in NI? #keytosuccess


@he4therw4t5on Primary Teaching Principal Release Time also allows two days/week to focus on leadership, management & admin duties #AskDE

Question 2 from @Gary_NI

Why are pupils still being segregated? This is bad economics and anything but a shared future. #AskDE


@Gary_NI Parents have right to state type of ed they wish for their child, faith-based or not. Schools provision based on demand #AskDE

Question 3 from @cas_ni lists 750+ programming jobs weekly. What will the Minister do to increase Computer Science in schools #askDE


@cas_ni I’m keen for pupils to have access to computer science. Curriculum gives schools flexibility to provide it if demand exists #AskDE

Question 4 from @the_pj88

@niexecutive ca bhfuil na postanna do muinteoiri nua? Ta mo chailin ag fanacht bliain go leith ar la oibre amhain i scoil ar bith. #askde

Translation - Where are the jobs for new teachers? My girlfriend is waiting a year and a half and hasn’t had a day’s work in any school.


@the_pj88 Plean le múinteoirí nua-cháilithe a fhostú le cur le litearthacht agus uimhearthacht á phlé. Eolas ón RO gan mhoill #ASkDE

Translation - Details of plan to employ newly qualified teachers to boost literacy and numeracy being worked out. DE will advise ASAP

Question 5 from @AaronECarson

Why is the Dickson plan in Lurgan being altered what's the benefits of joining 3 good schools. Surely teachers will lose jobs #AskDE


@AaronECarson Area planning will point way forward. No decisions made yet, consultation open until tomorrow: #AskDE

Question 6 from @he4ther4t5on

#askde ask the minister y there hasnt been enough progress towards"integrated"education in NI?good friday agreement #sharedorsharedoutfuture


@he4therw4t5on I support parental choice and will aim to provide integrated schools where demand is clear #AskDE

Question 7 from @EFCCG

#AskDE What role can social enterprise play in generating entrepreneurs that contribute to local economy whilst still in education?


@EFCCG Social enterprise important part of economy & pupils can learn Business Studies to encourage entrepreneurship from young age #AskDE

Question 8 from @Glenbhoy67

#AskDE-John, what steps will you take to assist newly qualified teachers in obtaining necessary teaching experience/employment?


@glenbhoy I’m keen to give new teachers as much support as poss. We have cut pay for retirees as subs & continue to explore options #AskDE

Question 9 from @AndreaGibson7

#AskDE How do you envisage funding future research in youth work? How can effective academic programmes be developed without research?


@andreagibson Youth work integral part of education. New policy open for consultation now, share your views at #AskDE

Question 10 from @stephenpglenn
What does the Minister intend to do to prevent homophobic bullying in our schools? #AskDE


@stephenpglenn Homophobic bullying is wrong. ALL bullying is wrong. Every school must have a policy on tackling it.

Question 11 from @the_pj88

#askde why haven't you regulated uniform pricing? Passing buck onto boards of governors while families suffer is not good enough. Act now.


@the_pj88 DE guidance clear: schools should consider VFM & not disadvantage pupils from poorer backgrounds by overpricing uniforms #AskDE

follow up question to 11 from @the_pj88

@niexecutive I appreciate that, but when they are flouting the guidance to the extent they are, you can't just say "we tried" #askde


@the_pj88 If guidance continues to be ignored then I will look at introducing legislation to curb uniform costs #AskDE

Question 12 from @jamesconolly16

@niexecutive #AskDe why is the bible taught in primary schools when there is no evidence to support its teachings?


@JamesConnolly16 RE teaches children about various religions, helping them respect cultural diversity and form own spiritual views #AskDE

Question 13 from @Wiseabap

#askde - why no mention of international youth work in the draft 'Priorities for Youth' policy? Huge learning comes from intl experiences


@Wiseabap I recognise value of international youth work opportunities and think these should continue #AskDE

Question 14 from @murraybarry

#AskDE a chara, an aithníonn tú go bhfuil an-obair ag dul ar aghaidh in Airneal na Gaelscoilíochta, an réiteach fad-téarma iad sruthanna?

Translation - Dear sir/madam, do you realise that there is great work going on in the Irish-medium sector, are (Irish-medium) streams the long term solution?


@murraybarry tá mé tiomanta don ghaeloideachas & pléifidh mé le moltaí forbartha do scoileanna, sruthanna no aonaid #AskDE

Translation - I am committed to delivering education through medium of Irish & will consider proposals for schools, streams or units

Question 15 from @theslabber

#AskDE Is it department policy for schools to ask parents for money for 'school funds'?


@theslabber No. Schools receive funding depending on make-up and number of pupils. Up to schools if they request more from parents #AskDE

Question 16 from @ChrisJenkins90

#AskDE The Advisory Group on Shared Education doesnt report until February. Why isnt it feeding into Area-Based Planning process?


@ChrisJenkins90 Area plans will evolve to meet local demand. I will ensure Shared Ed Advisory Group’s findings are taken account of #AskDE

Question 17 from @McGowan1912

#AskDE what is the minister planning to to do to help parents of children with special needs,especially in disadvantaged areas?


@McGowan1912 Special Education funding protected & new policy being developed. I’m committed to ensuring equality of access for ALL #AskDE

Question 18 from @ChrisJenkins90

#AskDE ESA has duty to facilitate: "the development of education provided in an Irish speaking school." Fine, but what about integrated too?


@ChrisJenkins90 The same duty applies for integrated education #AskDE

Question 19 from @AidantCampbell

#AskDE how will DE ensure a balance between cutting costs and maintaining schools in rural areas vital to sustain rural communities.


@AidantCampbell Children in rural areas will not be disadvantaged. We are working towards vision of sustainable provision for all #AskDE

Question 20 from @s7teach

#AskDE Will the minister make a siginicant investment in leadership training given chief inspector's report


@s7teach Teacher education as a whole under review, Leadership Development a key priority in this going forward #AskDE

Question 21 from @McGowan1912

#AskDE what are your plans for all grammar schools? Will the ESA bill treat all sectors equally?


@McGowan1912 All schools and sectors will be treated equally #AskDE

Question 22 from @The RowYouKnow

@niexecutive Has the Minister been able to give any further consideration to the proposed amalgamation of #SWBelfast Primary Schools #AskDE


@TheRowYouKnow Area planning will ensure right schools are in right place to meet the needs of children, including in S Belfast #AskDE

Question 23 from @mc_elhill

#AskDE How does Minister see DE contributing to cross departmental Autism Strategy out of The Autism Act 2011? #autism #Aspergers


@mc_elhill DE working with DHSSPS to progress Autism Strategy and improve services and support for children on Autistic Spectrum #AskDE

Question 24 from @TheRowYouKnow

@niexecutive No parental choice of post primary provision in #southbelfast Integrated or Grammar - is this equality? #AskDE


@TheRowYouKnow Area planning will take account of parental preference when considering need for particular school types in any area #AskDE

Question 25 from @TheRowYouKnow

@niexecutive Pls issue free travel passes to all post primary children in #southbelfast NRAs in attempt to reduce absenteeism #AskDE


@TheRowYouKnow DE has active strategy to cut absenteeism. Transport assistance available only to those who qualify #AskDE

Question 26 from @MaryTreatTicket

#AskDE Are you ever going to sort out the mess that is the Transfer system / 11+? Why haven't you made this a priority??? #AskDE


@MaryTreatTicket DE guidance on transfer to p/primary clear. Majority of schools adhere. No need for unregulated testing at 10 & 11 #AskDE

Question 27 from @dmchugh675

#askDE How will DE support schools in areas with high levels of deprivation to address the 'digital divide'? #niedchat


@dmchugh675 c2k network covers ALL schools. I’m committed to ensuring equal access to digital technologies in school for all pupils #AskDE

Question 28 from @MrMalcontent

#askDE Over 100 Teachers gathered in Stranmillis in Friday night for CPD of a different kind. Can you support us? #niedchat #tmbelfast #tmnw


@MrMalcontent Future of CPD is currently under consideration as part of review of teacher education #AskDE

Question 29 from @jeni_mcguff

#AskDE how did you get to where you are now? I'm just coming out of college and want a career in educ. (can I come work for you, please?)


@jeni_mcguff I’m an elected MLA & appointed as Minister. Ask your careers advisor about a career in education or civil service #AskDE

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Submit your question directly to the Education Minister via Twitter

Education Minister John O’Dowd will be live on Twitter at 11.15am on Thursday 25 October answering your questions.
Education Minister John O'Dowd

You can submit your question now via the hashtag #AskDE. The Minister will respond to as many education-related questions as time permits via the @niexecutive Twitter feed.

If you are not able to be online at 11.15am on Thursday to see the responses live, don’t worry. All responses will remain on the @niexecutive timeline and under the hashtag #AskDE. A full transcript will also be published on this blog.

So if you have a question for the Minister, please do submit it via #AskDE and the Minister will do his best to respond.

Users should submit no more than two questions each. This will enable as many people as possible to have a chance to take part and have their query answered.

The Minister will respond to as many tweets as possible in the time available. If your particular tweet is not responded to, it may be the case that the topic is covered by a different response, so do please read them all.

Please note we’ve kept the questions submitted for the postponed #AskDE in June. They will be considered equally with any submitted from now.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Statement on technical issues with school computer based assessments

Education Minister, John O’Dowd has responded to concerns raised by some schools in relation to technical issues with the new computer based assessment system.

A number of primary schools have contacted CCEA to advise that their pupils were experiencing difficulties when completing computer based assessments in literacy and numeracy.  Based on the information provided to date the difficulties are related to system and network issues and not to any problems with the assessment programs themselves. 

The Minister said: “I am aware that a number of schools are experiencing technical difficulties when accessing the new statutory computer-based assessments.  I am obviously concerned at the impact this may have on teachers and, more importantly, on pupils and have asked those involved to make every effort to resolve this issue as a matter of urgency.

“It is important to note that these problems were not encountered during the significant period of testing prior to their introduction and they are not affecting every school.  Nonetheless, the intermittent nature of the problem makes it difficult to resolve and CCEA and C2K have been working with the service provider, Northgate, to try to establish the causes. I have asked them to report back to me on this issue as quickly as possible.”

The Minister continued: “The new assessments have been designed specifically for our local context and are an important element of our drive to raise standards in literacy and numeracy. They are diagnostic in nature, intended to assist the work of teachers and the understanding and engagement of parents and pupils.

“Schools have been advised that if the current difficulties in operating the new assessment is interfering with this purpose, or is causing distress to pupils, they should stop the assessments until they are advised that the issues have been addressed.  Given the current circumstances, I believe it would be unreasonable to expect those schools who are encountering such difficulties to have conducted assessments and reported outcomes to parents by the end of the autumn term. My Department will be writing to schools to provide them with further guidance on this issue.” 

In conclusion the Minister said: “I note that many schools have already conducted the assessments successfully and have made arrangements to report to parents and set up meetings this term. Indeed, given the value of autumn term parental meetings, I hope that the majority of schools will be in a position to conduct assessments and report as normal.
Finally, I want to reassure those schools affected by the technical problems that every effort is being made to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”

Notes to editors:

For media queries please contact the Department of Education Press Office on 028 9127 9207. Outside office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Attwood comments on Athletic Stores leave for Judicial Review judgement

Environment Minister Alex Attwood today commented on the court decision today to grant leave for a judicial review into the Athletic Stores planning decision.

After an exhaustive assessment of all options from every angle, the Minister gave approval, with regret, on 20 April this year, for retail and residential development on the Athletic Stores site.

Alex Attwood said: “I note the decision today to grant leave for a judicial review of the planning decision at the Athletic Stores. I arrived at this decision after the fullest consideration. I inspected the site accompanied by representatives of the UAHS to ensure that I was fully appraised of all the issues. I am confident that the decision was the right one, even though it was taken with much regret. After all I have put much effort, since becoming Environment Minister, into saving our historic buildings. Unfortunately the Athletic Stores building was too far gone for modern living and working.”

The Minister also highlighted that the court decision today does not indicate that there are any flaws in the planning decision.

“I take note of the fact that the judge emphasised that granting leave in no way raised a presumption that the DOE’s decisions are flawed,” concluded the Minister.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Minister welcomes Executive agreement to Education Bill

Education Minister John O'Dowd has welcomed the Executive's agreement to the Education Bill, which will see the establishment of the Education and Skills Authority.
Speaking after today's Executive meeting, Mr O'Dowd said:
"Today we have taken a significant step forward in the strategic planning and delivery of our education system; a system which will deliver educational excellence for all and will meet the needs and aspirations of our young people, helping them fulfil their potential and enhancing their life chances.
"The creation of a single authority, able to plan, deliver, support and challenge schools and other providers, will also ensure we are better able to enhance the role played by education in developing our economy.
"I look forward to bringing this Bill to the Assembly in the coming weeks for scrutiny by the Assembly and the Education Committee.
"I wish to pay tribute today to staff at the Education and Library Boards, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the Youth Council and the Staff Commission for the Education and Library Boards. Over the course of the past 40 years they have provided an invaluable service to schools and I recognise the hard work and commitment of staff in all these organisations. This has been particularly true in recent years as many posts have gone unfilled in preparation for ESA with the remaining staff showing their professionalism in ensuring the continued delivery of services.
"Next week I will announce the way ahead for the establishment of a sectoral support body for the controlled sector. I will be establishing a working group to take this forward and I look forward to engaging with the group to secure the establishment of the sectorial support body by next year."

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Ministers express sadness at farming deaths

First Minister the Rt Hon Peter D Robinson MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP, MLA have expressed their deep sadness at the passing of three members of the Spence family in a tragic accident at their family farm in Hillsborough yesterday.

The Ministers said: "It was with great sadness that we learned of the sudden and tragic passing of Noel Spence and his sons Nevin and Graham in an accident on their family farm yesterday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Spence family at this extremely sad time and pass on our deepest condolences to them. We understand another member of the family, Emma, has been hospitalised following the accident and we wish her a full and speedy recovery.

“This tragedy has shocked the entire community and is a terrible reminder to us all of the dangers of farming life. Our thoughts are also with farmers everywhere at this time.

“Nevin was a rising star of local rugby and it is only a matter of months ago, in happier times, that we had the honour of hosting him and his colleagues at a reception in Parliament Buildings to celebrate the achievement of Ulster in reaching the Heineken Cup final. His untimely death is a blow for the game in the province and we sympathise with his teammates and everyone at Ulster Rugby who have lost a true colleague and friend."

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has expressed her condolences to the Spence family who tragically lost three family members in a farm accident yesterday evening.

Minister O'Neill said: "I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn of this terrible tragedy which has hit this hard working farming family. My thoughts and prayers are with Noel, Graham and Nevin and their family and friends at this extremely difficult time. I also hope and pray that Emma Spence who was also involved in this accident makes a full recovery."

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: "I want to express my sincere sympathies to the Spence family following the deaths of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham and Nevin who was a rising Ulster Rugby star.

"This tragic accident has devastated a family and my thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time.

"I understand that another family member Emma Spence, is currently in hospital following the accident and we all hope that she makes a full recovery."

Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety Edwin Poots has expressed his sympathy for the family of Noel, Graham and Nevin Spence following yesterday's tragic accident in Hillsborough.

He said: "I have known the Spence family for many years and it is difficult to comprehend the grief that they are suffering after such a terrible accident. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and their friends. I also want to wish Emma a full and speedy recovery. The loss of Noel, Graham and Nevin is being felt right across the community.

"I know that the firefighters, paramedics and medical staff who did everything in their power to save Noel, Graham and Nevin are devastated by what has unfolded. There is a sense of shock and disbelief across Northern Ireland today.

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has paid tribute to Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence and his father and brother who lost their lives in a farm accident in Hillsborough, and to Fermanagh County GAA player Brian ÓG Maguire, who died on Thursday following an accident.

The Minister said: "The loss of two talented sports players, and also a father and a brother, in such tragic circumstances is a tragedy for both the Spence and Maguire families. My sincere sympathy is extended to them at this extremely difficult time. My thoughts and prayers are with them all, and also with Nevin's sister Emma who is currently in hospital.

"Nevin and Brian were committed sports players and their untimely deaths are not only a loss to their immediate families, but also to the sporting organisations they represented and to their wider communities. Ulster GAA and Ulster Rugby are two of the great provincial sporting codes which unite society. Brian Og and Nevin were wonderful examples for their respective sports.

"I offer my condolences to both the Ulster and Ballynahinch rugby teams on the tragic loss of Nevin, and to the Ulster, Fermanagh and Lisnaskea GAA community on the loss of Brian, both of whom will be sadly missed."

Friday, 7 September 2012

Sports Minister congratulates Jason Smyth on sprint double

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has congratulated Jason Smyth on winning his second gold medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Jason won his second gold medal in 200m T13 race.

The Minister said: "Jason is one of the heroes of these games and is a outstanding athlete. Yet again he ran a terrific race and created another new world record. He truly deserves this second gold medal and the title of the 'fastest paralympian in history'. Watching athletes like Jason compete at these Games is an inspiration to us all."

The number of medals won by local athletes at the Paralympic Games now stands at seven.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Sports Minister congratulates Portaferry cyclist James Brown

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has congratulated Portaferry cyclist James Brown on winning a bronze medal in the Paralympic Games.

The Minister said: "This is a terrific achievement for James to come third in the Individual B Time Trial Final with an impressive time of 31:13:00. James' bronze medal brings the number of medals won by our local athletes up to 6 and Team Ireland's medal count up 11 medals - overall this was another fantastic performance and there will be more to come over the next few days.

"I would also like to commend Ballykelly's Sally Brown for her great race this evening. Even though Sally was not on the winner's podium, she is still a winner in our eyes and has provided us with tremendous enjoyment and pride."

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Sports Minister congratulates Golden Paralympians

Sports Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín has paid tribute to Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop who have both won gold medals.

Speaking at the end of the day the Minister said: "The 1st September certainly lived up to its billing as a super Saturday! Jason Smyth's 100m final was stunning as he smashed his own World Record for the second time in 24 hours with a time of 10.46. Incredible! His gold is truly deserved. This was followed closely by another golden moment as Michael McKillop resolutely defended his six-year unbeaten record at Paralympic level in the 800m T37 and also beat the world record. In less than 48 hours, our golden paralympians, Bethany, Michael and Jason have proved they are the best - three golds is an astounding achievement.

"Once again I would like to congratulate all of the paralympians, both from Ireland and across the globe, taking part . As I have said before, it takes hard work and dedication to reach the Paralympic finals, we are all proud of you."

O'Dowd expresses shock at blaze at Omagh school

Education Minister John O'Dowd has spoken out following a major fire at a school in Omagh.

During a visit to the scene, the Minister viewed the extensive damage caused to Arvalee School and Resource Centre in the town by last night's fire.

After speaking with the Principal of the school and the Chair of the Western Education and Library Board, Mr O'Dowd said: "The fire at Arvalee School and Resource Centre will have a devastating impact on the whole school community. The school caters for some of the most vulnerable children in our society and this fire will cause great distress just as the pupils are preparing to return for a new academic year. However, the impact will go further; this also affects the parents, staff and the wider community in Omagh.

"I have spoken with the Principal of the school and relayed my shock and sympathy at the events of last night and assured him that my Department stands ready to assist the Western Education and Library Board and the school in the coming days.

"I have been disturbed by the fact that this fire is currently being treated as suspicious. Whilst I struggle to comprehend who might wish to do this to a special school, I would ask that if anyone has information on the blaze, they take it to the PSNI.

"In the mean time, the Western Education and Library Board will be putting in place alternative arrangements for the children due to return to school next week. The aim will be to ensure that arrangements are made as quickly as possible, and that any distress to the children involved is kept to an absolute minimum. Parents of pupils at the school will be alerted once alternative arrangements are agreed.

"I had already announced a new build for Arvalee School and Resource Centre as an early development on the Lisanelly site. I will want to explore with my officials and other stakeholders how we can advance the timetable for that given last night's events.

"Finally, I would like to thank the emergency services for the professional way they dealt with the incident and for their efforts to contain the fire."

Monday, 13 August 2012

Foster congratulates McIlroy on second major win

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster has congratulated RoryMcIlroy on winning his second major title at the US PGA Championship, KiawahIsland.

Congratulating Rory on his latest win, Arlene Foster said: "The international spotlight is once again shining on the outstanding ability of our major-winning golfing champions. To win a second major title is no mean feat, and to do so at the age of 23 is an amazing achievement.

"Rory's win, combined with the recent success of the Irish Open, which saw record-breaking crowds through the gates of Royal Portrush, highlights how golf is continuing to offer Northern Ireland global exposure.

"Through golf tourism, an estimated £14m is generated for the economy every year, but as a result of the Irish Open we anticipate that this figure will rise sharply. The tournament not only showcased our golf but also other aspects of Northern Ireland, such as our friendly people, fantastic food,music and scenery.

"Yet again our local golfers have shown that they can compete with the world's best. As they continue to raise the profile, more people from around the world will come to Northern Ireland, to play the courses that our local golfers enjoy, and they will spend their money in the local economy."

The Minister continued: "Rory's success at the US PGA Championship is a fitting end to an amazing period for sport with Team GBNI producing an outstanding performance at the Olympics. Our sporting champions are great ambassadors for Northern Ireland and it is our responsibilityto capitalise on their success.

"The Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland are both working to make the most of the opportunities that our local stars are creating, to encourage the world to see for themselves why we are the home of champions."

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Ní Chuilín wishes local athletes good luck at the 2012 Olympic Games

The Sports Minister has wished good luck to the 20 athletes from the north of Ireland taking part in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The Minister said: “After years of preparation, the Olympic Games are finally here. Being part of the greatest sporting event on earth is a once in a life-time opportunity for many of us to witness and participate in especially when it is all happening so close to home.”

Praising the local athletes who are part of Team Ireland and Team GB, the Minister said: “We have a total of 20 local athletes competing for either the Ireland team or British team over the next 16 days and seven paralympians getting ready for the Parlaympic Games later in August. This is the largest contingent we have ever fielded. I want to praise all the athletes from the island of Ireland for their excellence and endeavour.

“I am encouraged that this number includes 11 females which is our highest number of women yet. I hope this will be an inspiration to more of our women and girls to take up sport.”

Highlighting the number of first time competitors, Carál Ní Chuilín said: “This is the first time for a local person to compete in Olympic Table Tennis and Canoeing and we have our first local female competitor in Judo as well as our first male competitor in the Triathlon.

“These athletes have given their all to get to this level and we will be cheering them on as they take on the world’s best in table tennis, judo, hockey, rowing, cycling, canoeing, sailing, triathlon, swimming, boxing and eventing. I wish them all the very best of luck for each of their individual competitions – all of which we can watch on the Big Screens in Belfast and Derry.”

The 20 local athletes competing in the 2012 Olympic Games in London are:

Na Liu: Table Tennis
Iain Lewers: Hockey
Alan Campbell: Rowing
Richard Chambers: Rowing
Peter Chambers: Rowing
Wendy Houvenaghel: Cycling –Track
Michael Conlon: Boxing
Paddy Barnes: Boxing
Hannah Craig: Kayak – Ki Racing Event (Canoeing)
David McCann: Cycling – Road Race & Time Trial
Martyn Irvine: Cycling – Track: Omnium
Joesph Murphy: Equestrian Eventing
Lisa Kearney: Judo
James Espey: Laser Sailing
Ryan Seaton: Sailing 49er Class
Matt McGovern: Sailing 49er Class
Melanie Nocher : Swimming 200m Backstroke
Sycerika McMahon: Swimming 100m Breaststroke
Aileen Morrison: Triathlon
Gavin Noble: Triathlon
(Emma Higgins is one of four reserves selected for Team GB Women’s Football )

More information about the coverage of the games on the Big Screens in Belfast and Derry is available from the Derry City Council website and the Belfast City Council website.

Sports Minister attends spectacular opening of the Olympic Games

Sports Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, has attended the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games along with sports ministers from across the globe.

Speaking at the spectacular opening to the Games of the 30th Olympiad at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford in East London, the Minister said: “It is hard to believe after so much work on the part of the organisers and of the athletes who will now compete over the next couple of weeks, that the Olympic Games are finally here.

“There is no doubt that being part of the greatest sporting event on earth is a once in a life-time opportunity for many of us to witness and participate in especially when it is all happening so close to home.

“Tonight at the opening ceremony, nine of our local schools who have been involved in the London 2012 Education Programme ‘Get Set’ are forming a guard of honour for competing athletes as they leave the Olympic Village on their way to the Stadium. And two local choirs - Phil Kids and Jam - are part of the ‘Isles of Wonder’ film along with choirs from England, Scotland and Wales.

“The opening ceremony was also shown live on the Big Screens at Belfast City Hall and in Derry and during the Games all the action will be at available to view here as well.”

Praising the athletes from the north of Ireland who are part of Team Ireland and Team GB, the Minister said: “We have 20 local sportsmen and women competing for either the Ireland team or British team over the next 16 days. Each of these athletes has given their all to get to this level and we will be cheering them on as they take on the world’s best in table tennis, judo, hockey, rowing, cycling, canoeing, sailing, triathlon, swimming, boxing and eventing. I wish all the very best of luck to all of the athletes from the island of Ireland in their individual events.”

Recognising the wide-range of Irish involvement in preparation for the Games, including the all-Ireland Olympic Torch Relay, the Minister said: “An event of this size and scale could not happen without volunteers. It comes off the back of a hugely successful and inclusive all-Ireland Torch Relay. Almost 500 local games makers are playing their part in ensuring a smooth running and successful Olympic and Paralympic Games. This is a fantastic opportunity for all of them and their experience in London will be invaluable for next year’s City of Culture and the World Police and Fire Games.

“I hope everyone enjoys the opening ceremony and the feast of sport to come over the next couple of weeks.”

Nine local schools formed a Guard of Honour for teams of athletes en route to Olympic Park for the Opening Ceremony. They were:

  • Sri Lanka - St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s Primary School, Ballycastle;
  • Suriname - St Catherine’s College, Armagh;
  • Swaziland - Ballee Community High School, Ballymena;
  • Sweden - Christ the Redeemer Primary School, Belfast;
  • Philippines - Dundonald Primary School;
  • Jordan - Belfast Boy’s Middle School;
  • Jordan - Oakgrove Integrated College, Derry;
  • Kuwait/Saudi Arabia - Park Hall integrated College, Antrim; and
  • Philippines - Orangefield High School, Belfast.