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Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019: Section 3(5) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat 6:30 pm, 17th October 2019

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in the gap. I declare my interest as a medical graduate from Northern Ireland and formerly a medical practitioner in Northern Ireland.

Lest the House be in any way misled, we should be clear that there is no prospect of the resumption of an Executive at the beginning of next week. The recall of the Assembly has been at the request of unionist Members only and an Executive cannot be formed on that basis. Let us be clear: it is not going to happen.

I refer to the issue of the Ulster University graduate medical school in Derry/Londonderry. I have three brief points. First, let us not forget that the decision to locate the University of Ulster’s main campus at Coleraine is still a sore point for many people in Derry/Londonderry. It was one of the great aggravations of the 1960s and it has not gone away. Whether the Ulster University graduate medical school is established is not a neutral question. It is still a painful question that refers back to the 1960s decision, which was a bad decision.

Secondly, it is not purely an education and health decision, as implied by the report. It is also an economic decision, because one value in having graduate entry for medical students is that it attracts people from other parts of the world who are prepared to come and pay substantial fees. For example, many of the young psychiatrists I see now from the United States of America as part of their training have graduated from Caribbean medical schools and completed their training in the United States. Many Caribbean islands with good medical training facilities, from the University of the West Indies, for example, are able to do very well, so this is an economic question as well.

Thirdly, it is not possible simply to turn on a tap for a medical school. Graduate entry occurs at only one time of the year. If an opportunity for graduates to come in next year or the year after is lost, it will be at least another year or more before there is another opportunity. Since this has been waiting for some time, the kind of academics who were prepared to set up a school will move on if it keeps being delayed. I appeal to the Minister: sadly, in the likelihood that we will not have a devolved Executive, can this issue not be looked at again and pushed for? It is not a matter of dispute in Northern Ireland. People right across the community, even at Queen’s University, want to see this development. Can it not be looked at and implemented soon?