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The International Blue Flag Awards have recognised ten of Northern Ireland’s beaches as “world class” for their facilities and water quality.

The Blue Flag Award recognises beaches with the highest standards of facilities and water quality. This year Northern Ireland can boast of ten beaches and two marinas that have reached this benchmark.

The international Blue Flag award, which is administered locally by environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, is a mark of excellence in 49 countries.

The awards are being presented to each beach on 1st June, the first day of the 2016 bathing season, by the International Director of the Blue Flag programme, Sophie Bachet Granados, the new Minister for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs, Michelle McIlveen, and Andrew Patterson from Tourism NI, which supports the awards in Northern Ireland at an event in the iconic Arcadia building in Portrush.

Blue Flag beaches offer the highest standard of visitor facilities including toilets, lifeguards if necessary, first aid during peak hours and disabled access onto the beach. In order to promote an inclusive atmosphere for families with small children, activities such as windsurfing are zoned while dogs are not permitted within the Award area.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Michelle McIlveen said: “I am delighted that once again so many of Northern Ireland’s beaches have received the coveted Blue Flag and Seaside Awards and that our first-class Marinas have also been recognised. These awards are testament to the hard work and dedication of those who manage our beaches. These hard-won awards let people around the world know that Northern Ireland is open for business and that our beaches are first class destinations: clean, healthy and safe to enjoy.”

Mrs Bachet Granados said “I’ve had the chance to see some of the beautiful beaches here and speak to the Operators, and I’m very impressed by the standards. As a mark of excellence recognised across Europe; Africa; North and South America and as of this year Asia, Blue Flag beaches represent the best in coastal recreation management.”

A further eleven beaches have received the Seaside Award, which recognises beaches with safe and clean bathing water as well as appropriate facilities for the number of visitors they receive in both resort and rural settings.

Both awards are predicated upon the bathing water quality at each beach over the past four years, with the requirements laid down by the revised EU Bathing Water Directive. This is the first year since the new stricter classifications were introduced and all 23 identified bathing waters in Northern Ireland have met the minimum standards, something still not achieved in England or Scotland.

Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said “Having Northern Ireland’s world class beaches managed to such high standards is helping improve the quality of our lives as well as attracting visitors. Beach operators are inspirational people showing that all of us can play our part in loving where we live. . And, in most council areas, the Live Here Love Here campaign is building on this to inspire everyone to get involved in creating cleaner, greener and healthier places to live, learn and work.”

With weeks of fine weather in May prompting hopes of a fine summer, beaches around Northern Ireland are gearing up for an influx of visitors. To help everyone find their ideal award winning beach or marina Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and Tourism NI have launched a visitor map highlighting the facilities offered at each beach and also includes suggestions for activities or attractions to make for a memorable day out. The guide will be available online, via all Tourist Information Centres, at Award beaches and from local councils.