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Gildernew attends conference on Rural Childcare

6 November, 2007

Sinn Féin Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA has attended a conference on rural childcare hosted by Oakleaf Rural Community Network.

The conference focused on key issues relating to special-needs provision in rural areas.

Speaking at the conference the Minister said:

"Childcare in country areas is important to me as a working mother. I believe in fully supporting women in rural communities by providing equal access to childcare, enabling them to take up training and employment opportunities and participate more fully in community life.

"I know that for women with children to remain in work, they have to find safe and stimulating surroundings for their children. Parents want care that nurtures their children and allows them to reach their full potential for the simple reason that they want the best for them.

"In June this year I began taking a fresh look at the question by founding a Rural Childcare Stakeholders' Group. Setting up the group was the first step towards more accessible childcare for rural families, and the well-argued views heard at today's conference will feed into its work. I also hope the increased funding for rural life in the new budget will help progress this goal."

Referring to the new Rural Development Programme, the Minister said:

"The new programme provides a real opportunity for spending on children and young people. At least 5% of the funds available under Axis 3 must go on that cohort, this is something that my department will guarantee. The draft programme for government also includes a new £10million package to combat rural social exclusion and poverty. I hope this will make a difference in this important area."

The Rural Childcare Stakeholders' Group will identify the main factors affecting access to childcare in rural areas, including special-needs childcare, and consider ways to advance matters. A report will also be produced detailing current difficulties in childcare provision in rural areas and recommendations will be made on how current and future provision can be improved.

The group consists of various organisations that have an interest or knowledge of childcare issues and is chaired by Siobhán Fitzpatrick from the NI Pre-school Play Association (NIPPA).

Note to Editors

Membership of the group includes representatives from NI Rural Women's Network, Rural Community Network, South Armagh Rural Network, TADA Rural Support Network, Rural Development Council, UFU (Ulster Farmers Union), Women in Agriculture, NIPPA , NICMA (NI Childminding Association), Queen's University Belfast, University of Ulster and OFMDFM.

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