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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 14:39 GMT
From Stormont... to Sesame Tree
By Freya McClements
BBC News

Potto and Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness meets Potto and Hilda

It is not every day that the list of the deputy first minister's engagements includes a photocall with a pink fluffy monster and a hyperactive hare.

But Martin McGuinness took his first encounter with the stars of the new BBC children's programme, Sesame Tree, in his stride.

He smiled manfully alongside muppets Potto and Hilda, despite their best efforts to distract him.

The local version of Sesame Street was launched in Belfast on Monday.

The new series swaps the original New York street setting for the titular tree, and aims to showcase diversity and promote respect and understanding through the characters' adventures with local schoolchildren.

The programme is linked to the revised Northern Ireland statutory curriculum, and will encourage children to explore and appreciate the world around them.

Sesame Tree characters
Potto, Claribelle and Hilda from Sesame Tree

But according to Martin McGuinness, its message is not just for three to six-year-olds.

"Potto and Hilda are a combination that work well together, and today we saw a very strong message of sharing that we would all do well to share," said Mr McGuinness.

"We have an 82-year-old unionist and a 57-year-old republican agreeing to share power, and they have done so since May last year.

"This is work we can all be involved in, across all the spectrums and age groups, to eradicate sectarianism and racism.

"If people are prepared to work together it will be a huge step forward, and if we can make that progress with young children, it will complement the political process."

His message was echoed by some of the children present.

"It's really important to share because if you share you don't ever fight," said Abbie Kinnear.

She and her fellow P1 pupils from Cranmore Integrated Primary School in Finaghy have spent the last few months creating their own Sesame Trees. "We made our own trees just the same as the picture of the tree on our uniform," said Kealan McAvoy.

"I asked Potto if he went to school and he said he went to monster school but I don't think I'd like that," he said.

Sesame Tree is produced by Belfast production company Sixteen South.

The first episode is on BBC2 Northern Ireland on 5 April.

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