Northern Ireland Election 2016

NI assembly election: UUP 'to make education priority'

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Media captionLaunching their election manifesto, the Ulster Unionists said if they join the next Stormont Executive their priority department will be education

The Ulster Unionists say if they join the next Stormont executive their priority department will be education.

They said they want to devise a new method of transferring pupils from primary schools within two years.

The party launched its assembly election manifesto on Thursday.

The UUP said successive Sinn Féin ministers have pushed for an end to academic selection, but there is no evidence that this would shorten the tail of underachievement.

Instead the Ulster Unionist manifesto says the party will pursue numeracy and literacy initiatives and provide extra help for children through a "book buddy" scheme.

They believe a new method of transferring Year 7 pupils should be based on continual assessment of pupils during the course of their primary education.

Last year, the party pulled out of the Northern Ireland Executive in a protest over IRA activity in the wake of the murder of Belfast man Kevin McGuigan.

The manifesto says they will rejoin the power sharing coalition, provided its programme for government is progressive, and there is a collective political will to deliver it.

The manifesto does not link the UUP's participation in government to the question of IRA activity. Instead, the party says it has engaged positively with the group established under the Fresh Start agreement to recommend ways to end paramilitary groups.

The Ulster Unionists say the next executive must prioritise tackling what they describe as the current "crippling hospital waits". They pledge to increase the number of GPs here by 400 over the next five years.

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Image caption Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said his party had "been reborn" after going through a bad period

On the economy, the party pledges to implement a strategy to tackle the high level of economic inactivity in Northern Ireland. That strategy was drawn up for the last executive, but was not funded and so not implemented.

The party wants to celebrate the centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021 with new community facilities in each of the six counties.

They propose a centre piece could be a "people park", as a tribute to the famous people born in Northern Ireland or who have chosen to settle there.

They suggest the new park could be sited in the Titanic Quarter and argue that the cost to the public purse would be minimal as the development would be attractive to commercial and philanthropic funders.

"The main message of the manifesto is that we are offering real choice to the electorate on 5 May because we are now refreshed and we are, as it were, reborn," Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said.

"We've gone through a bad period and now we're saying to the electorate we have the vision to make this work, we have the policies to make it work and we have the people in terms of our 33 candidates."

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