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.”