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McGuinness and Paisley in rare show of unity for special needs school

The Best of Buddies

They're the unlikeliest of bedfellows, but Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and DUP leader Ian Paisley are united in their support for the Buddy Bear Trust.

Mr McGuinness, the former education minister, said he valued the work carried out at the threatened Dungannon school and was more than happy to work with the DUP to ensure it did not close.

Last week, Mr Paisley pledged his support for the independent needs facility, saying he would do everything he could to keep it open. Yesterday at Stormont, Mr McGuinness met 19-year-old Daniel Murphy, a cerebral palsy sufferer who attended the school for 12 years.

Mr Paisley spent time with Daniel - and his Buddy Bear friend - last week. Like the DUP leader, Mr McGuinness said Sinn Fein was "very supportive" of the school.

He said: "The trust has some very powerful allies here and we need to ensure that every child has the opportunity to benefit from this school."

Mr McGuinness also said he would be seeking support from the Irish government to help save an independent special needs school in Dungannon from closure. Speaking ahead of a meeting with Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern in Dundalk yesterday, Mr McGuinness said he would be highlighting the plight of the Buddy Bear Trust.

He said he hoped to investigate the possibility of getting wide ranging support for the Buddy Bear, similar to what has been put in place for the new Centre of Excellence for Autism which finally opened up in Middletown this year.

"This is something that could benefit the whole island of Ireland," he said. "Daniel is the evidence that great work has been achieved at the school and we need to ensure that every other child has the opportunity to benefit from this."

Mr McGuinness said he would raise the issue with Bertie Ahern and Dermot Ahern, who he was due to meet yesterday. Currently, Buddy Bear is the only school outside of Hungary in Europe which offers Conductive Education.

Since it began in 1989, it has helped more than 200 children and there are now fears because it only has two current students it will not survive past the end of this year.

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