Following the recent very tragic death of a young boy in Cloughmills, County Antrim the Ulster Farmers’ Union in conjunction with the Rural Community Network, the Northern Ireland Women’s Network and the Rural Development Council have written to Education Minister John O’Dowd.
The organisations have called for action to be taken to ensure that the safety of children in rural areas, who often have to travel along dangerous roads in order to get transport to school, is a top priority for Northern Ireland’s Education and Library Boards so as to prevent another tragedy of this kind ever happening again.
UFU president Ian Marshall said: “The news of the young boy’s death in Cloughmills was devastating to the rural community.
“Often children in rural areas have no other option than to walk along treacherous roads in order to access transport to school and we believe action needs to be taken to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.
“As a first step, we have requested that all pupils who attend rural schools be issued with some form of high-visibility clothing, which would allow a child to be seen from a greater distance by motorists during the hours of darkness and could potentially save lives. High-visibility clothing is not expensive and would be a cost-effective move in dealing with this issue.
“In the long run, it is important to identify solutions which will deal with the issues we are faced with. Children have the right to an education and it is imperative that they can avail of this right in safety.
“Having to walk these roads has unfortunately not been a choice for those in rural areas and there are parents who live in fear of an accident happening to their children on rural roads.
“We have asked that we are involved in the process of addressing this issue and hope that we can work together with government to make the roads safer for our children.”
As part of the letter, the UFU and the other organisations have asked DENI to provided details about what they are doing at a strategic level to ensure the risks that rural children face are mitigated as much as possible.
There is no simple solution but all four organisations have offered to work with the department to find a suitable way forward.