Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness and Junior Minister, Jennifer McCann answered questions on behalf of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister during today’s Question Time. Ms McCann addressed concerns around the current childcare system and its ability to deal with an increased demand for services and staff given the proposed changes expected in the Childcare Strategy. The aim of the strategy is to “give all of our children the best start in life, preparing them for lifelong well-being and achievement, thereby creating the basis for a better and more prosperous future”. It is intended to create more childcare places which will lead to an increased demand in skilled childcare workers. The Department is working closely with the Department for Employment and Learning on estimating the extent of demand for new training places and the incurrent costs. The strategy will also cater for disadvantaged children “to ensure better life chances for them and help to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty” with the aim of making childcare more affordable for all.
During topical questions the deputy First Minister was asked about the representations made to the British Prime Minister and European representatives regarding the current Syrian refugee situation. Mr McGuinness conceded that recent talks with the Prime Minister have centred on the current difficulties within the Assembly and how to move those forward but did confirm that Northern Ireland is willing to play its part in terms of taking in refugees. The Minister described the situation as “horrendous”, commended the bravery and determination of refugees in seeking safety for their families and believes that they do not seem the type to seek refuge “and sit on their backsides when they get there.” Mr McGuinness added that, “Work is already under way. Officials and junior Ministers are involved in that work, and there is no doubt whatsoever that the First Minister and I want to contribute and play our part in alleviating the plight of those poor people.”
During Question Time the deputy First Minister also answered questions on Programme for Government delivery, the functions of the proposed Department for Communities, child poverty and welfare reform.