Gardiner first loyalist to seek DCC election in 10 years
LONDONDERRY loyalist and Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) Deputy Leader Nigel Gardiner has been confirmed as the party's candidate for the forthcoming local Council election: he is the first loyalist to stand here in 10 years.
The local community worker - announcing his intention of standing in the spring poll - vowed to stand up for people from disadvantaged working-class areas.
Mr Gardiner - who will become the first loyalist candidate to stand since Catherine Cooke polled 153 votes for the PUP in the Waterside in 2001 - said he beleieed education was key in addressing ongoing disadvantage in Londonderry.
The PUP man echoed his Party Leader Brian Ervine's comments in relation to ensuring that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are properly supported and encouraged to access university education.
Mr Gardiner said: "We must ensure that the cost of accessing third level education does not create further barriers to promoting social inclusion.
"This is especially the case if we are serious as a society about addressing educational under-achievement in deprived neighbourhoods."
He was also keen to stress that promoting access to education was about much more than affordability: "The cost of education is an important factor but is only part of the equation.
"We must work with disengaged young people to raise their confidence and aspirations and demonstrate the benefits education can bring from an early age."
The former UDR man comes from a background within the community and voluntary sector and has gained direct experience of engaging disadvantaged youth in his role working with the Irish Street Community Association
He said he was fully aware of the impact that educational underachievement can have on the lives of young people. He continued: "Young people who disengage from formal education face greater challenges in terms of accessing quality well-paid employment in the future and are also more likely to experience other challenges such as poor mental health."
Returning to the issue of third-level education Mr Gardiner called on the Employment and Learning Minister Danny Kennedy to ensure students from working-class and underprivileged backgrounds are protected from any measures introduced by the Executive that will result in increased fees for local students accessing university education in Northern Ireland.
He concluded: "University education should be an option for people from every background regardless of ability to pay. Our City has some excellent educational facilities and I want all our young people to be able to access them."