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The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for this debate. The proposer will have 10 minutes to propose the motion and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.
I beg to move:
That this Assembly recognises the impact that the economic recession has had on the north-west region; and calls on the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Minister for Employment and Learning to declare the north-west an area of special economic need and to take new and innovative measures to mitigate the economic crisis in the region.
Go raibh maith agat. Éirím leis an rún a mholadh.
I support the motion and the amendment. I am grateful for the opportunity to propose this motion, although it is also a source of deep regret that the economic crisis in the north-west makes it necessary to do so. Equally disturbing is the fact that the crisis in which my city and region find themselves, though exacerbated by the recession, is not new.
In 2003, in an attempt to secure an effective response from government, Derry City Council published a report entitled ‘Economic Crisis in the North West’. That report, which had the support of all political parties and local stakeholders, made grim reading. It pointed out that the Derry City Council area had the highest rate of unemployment in the North, was the second-most deprived district in the North, and had one of the lowest levels of business creation. I could go on, but Members get the picture.
That paper proposed a number of interventions which government could take to mitigate the economic crisis in the north-west, such as decentralising public sector jobs to Derry and expanding the further and higher education sectors. Unfortunately, we have seen little progress on the initiatives proposed by Derry City Council in 2003. That failure to act has compounded underlying structural weaknesses in the city that have remained unaddressed for decades. DETI’s 2009 statistics confirm that Derry now has the highest rate of income deprivation, with a rate of almost 35%. Its employment deprivation rate is 21·9%, which is second only to our north-west neighbour, Strabane, which has a rate of 22·5%.
Investment is the key to infrastructure. That is required. The levels of unemployment and economic inactivity are the highest in the North and, in some wards, the highest in western Europe.
The econometric model that was published by Oxford Economics last month, and which was provided to Ilex, Derry City Council and a number of stakeholders last week, forecasts that the North will lose 37,360 new jobs in the recession and that Derry is expected to experience a faster decline in employment than the rest of the North up to 2011. The econometric model also showed evidence about how that could come about.
I also refer Members to the prophetic warning that was contained in Derry City Council’s 2003 report on the economic crisis. It stated:
“The relative vulnerability of the North West economy means that while Northern Ireland as a whole will suffer in any global recession, the impact will be deeper and more persistent in the North West.”
That report was published six years ago. The global recession has since come to pass, and, as predicted, it has hit Derry harder than anywhere else. That fact was recognised by the Minister for Employment and Learning in the wake of the Stream jobs crisis, when he stated unambiguously that the north-west had suffered more in the recession than any other region. The Minister’s empathy with the north-west was warmly welcomed in Derry and across the north-west.
I also acknowledge the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s response to the crisis. She met representatives of the Stream workforce and MLAs from the city, and all of us appreciated her comments at that time and her ongoing efforts to try to save those jobs.
People in the north-west hoped that the reaction of both Ministers, particularly Minister Empey’s words, would signal a change in how the Government treat the region, because we are all too aware that the people in our city are branded the Derry “whingers”. Minister Empey might not have said stand up for Derry, but he publicly acknowledged that our plight is not a whinge. He acknowledged that the plight is not in our imaginations, and it is not down to the chip on our shoulders. The plight is as real as the evidence that shows that Derry still has the highest rate of unemployment, one of the highest rates of child poverty and the highest percentage of citizens living in deprived areas.
None of this is about Derry whingeing, and neither is it about Derry versus Belfast. A vibrant north-west and a vibrant Derry are good for the whole economy. For instance, we need the north-west to be marketed abroad so that the potential gains from Project Kelvin can be realised. There is huge potential in the north-west. My city of Derry is the second-largest city in the North and the fourth-largest city on the island, and it could and should be a driving force for the whole economy and not an economic backwater.
Derry has a proven track record as the only significant strategic employment location outside the Belfast metropolitan area, and, as such, it can make a key contribution to the balanced regional development of the North and the whole of the island. That is evidenced by the fact that, during the 1990s, Derry had an actual growth rate in jobs that was closer to that of the Celtic tiger economy than the North’s average. That is what our young, well-educated population was able to achieve, despite being failed by the policies and programmes of Stormont and direct rule Ministers. If this Administration were prepared to adopt new and innovative measures to assist the north-west, just think of what those young people could achieve not only for the north-west but for the entire economy.
We are not proposing anything revolutionary. The Programme for Government has a commitment to redress regional disparities and inequalities. Plans and commitments are in place for the expansion of the University of Ulster’s Magee campus, but we need the political will to make that happen and the Minister for Employment and Learning’s assistance to make it achievable.
In calling for the north-west to be declared an area of special economic need, we are following examples of best practice that we have seen elsewhere. I want the Minister to consider and research those models of best practice.
The Welsh Assembly has reacted to a similar economic crisis in the western valleys region of south Wales by declaring it a strategic regeneration area. The same could be done in the north-west, which would tie in with the work that the cross-party, cross-community stakeholder and residents groups are involved in across Derry. We are working extremely hard on the Ilex mark II regeneration plan, which will produce targeted proposals that must demonstrate how they will make a difference to the most deprived groups.
The work that the Welsh Assembly is doing allows it to focus investment in a number of key towns, which would have the greatest impact on the area as a whole. A dedicated team of experts from a range of disciplines was also set up to co-ordinate activities in the area. That team works in partnership with local authorities and other agencies and organisations, and the Welsh Assembly also plan to prepare a budget and draw up an action plan in partnership with local authorities and other stakeholders. Crucially, such designations are also recognised by Europe, and the Welsh Assembly believes that that will assist them in accessing European convergence funding as a potential source of match funding.
If the Welsh can do that, then so can we. I almost feel like Barack Obama when he gave his “Yes, we can” speech. If we adopt a can-do attitude, we can make a difference to the entire north-west region. We should at least investigate and explore what the Welsh are doing and examine whether that model could be replicated here.
This is an opportunity to build on the words of empathy that both Ministers have expressed with respect to the north-west and to do something tangible to assist the economy and the economic recovery of the north-west region. By doing that, we will address the economic recovery of the North as a whole, because a successful north-west is good for the entire region and for the island of Ireland, and the north-west gateway initiative can contribute to that. It is for that reason that I sincerely hope that all Members will support the motion. Go raibh míle maith agat.
I beg to move the following amendment: At end insert
“; and also calls for the north-west gateway initiative to be renewed under the authority of the North/South Ministerial Council with reports to plenary and other formats.”
The SDLP commends the motion that has been tabled. It is clearly very timely, and the party also welcomes the comments of my colleague in the Foyle constituency Martina Anderson. However, the SDLP is concerned that the motion is too prescriptive and limited. Given the problems of the region, two Departments on their own cannot make the difference that is needed in Derry.
Derry should be a city of high wealth creation, but it is not. That situation can and should be changed. The north-west region has the highest levels of deprivation of any region on these islands. Derry city is at the centre of that region; it is its main economic driver and its role in the north-west is similar to the role of Belfast in the east. However, where Belfast has a solid economic infrastructure in its university presence, its transport infrastructure and the location of all government Departments nearby, Derry is out on a limb. Its university campus has 3,800 students, roughly one tenth of the student population of Belfast. It is 55 miles from the nearest motorway, and no government Departments are headquartered in Derry or the north-west.
I want to talk specifically about my constituency. Derry is a victim of decades of underinvestment in regional and transport infrastructure, government Departments and university education by the old unionist establishment. I do not make that point as an accusation against my unionist colleagues in the House, because they are not responsible for historical decisions. However, that point must be made to put the economic problem into context.
That neglect was followed by three decades of economic sabotage by the IRA, which viewed the economy as a legitimate target. It destroyed businesses and killed businesspeople. Given the neglect and that deliberate undermining of its people and economy, it is no wonder that the north-west and Derry are struggling.
During the time of the previous Executive there was some hope for the city. Investment was made in the gas pipeline and the power station. There was major investment in Altnagelvin Hospital, in new trains and in our schools. Furthermore, military bases were handed over, the north-west gateway initiative, which the SDLP’s amendment focuses on, was set up, and we had the announcement of a 10,000 student target at the University of Ulster at Magee.
We are seeing the benefits of the integrated development fund, which has made a considerable difference in my constituency. We heard the announcement that investment was to be made in the road from Aughnacloy to Derry, giving Derry and the north-west a good connection to Dublin. Some improvements have been made to the road to Belfast, notably at Toome. We also saw the beginning of decentralisation.
Since the previous Executive were formed, the target for student numbers has reduced from 10,000 to 5,000. Sinn Féin representatives welcomed that revised figure. However, that new figure is only an aspiration, and no money has been identified by the Department or the university to meet it. The Minister of Finance and Personnel argues that the Bain report cannot be implemented, and that is causing deep worry and concern, and not just in Derry.
We have seen the slow progress on the development of the military bases. We have not exploited the presence of a 12·5% corporation tax zone that is two and a half miles from Derry city centre, and there is no strategy in place to do so. We have very poor road and rail links to Belfast.
However, it has not all been bad, and credit should be given where it is appropriate. The people of Derry are looking forward to the development of a major milestone in the city centre through the Department for Social Development’s (DSD) public realm plan investment. There will also be investment in the walls and some of our historic buildings as part of the tourism plans. I note that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Development is in the Chamber, and we must commend her Department for the considerable contribution that it has made to upgrading and modernising our built heritage as a tourism product for the future.
We have the telehouse investment and Project Kelvin, but that came only after a struggle. Those welcome investments will improve the look and feel of our city centre and will give it connectivity. However, on their own they will have limited impact.
I mentioned earlier that Derry should be a thriving city. Other regional and peripheral cities on this island have enjoyed sustained economic and social growth over the past two decades as a result of planned investment from government, followed by private sector investments and jobs.
Derry could do that if it had the proper investment. We give a good return on investment. Even though the Magee campus is the smallest, the science park in the University of Ulster is the most successful, given the number of jobs and new companies that are being created. We have attracted and retained major IT giants, including Seagate, Fujitsu and Northbrook Technology. We have also Allstate and HML. As Martina Anderson said, we have Stream, and, with our Minister’s help, we hope that the jobs that are under pressure there can be saved. We also have the chemical giant Invista, formerly DuPont, and we are very good at growing locally owned companies in software development, engineering and creative industries.
We have good, highly skilled people. We have excellent schools with committed parents, teachers and children. We have highly creative people, a superb environment and quality of life, and we are prepared to invest in ourselves. For example, ratepayers contribute significantly to the running costs of Derry City Airport. However, we need to get another 10,000 people in our city into employment, which would just bring the employment levels up to the Northern Ireland average. Derry cannot do that by itself. We need determined and sustained investment in our regional infrastructure. If the Executive are serious, they need a subregional plan that involves all the Departments, as well as strong cross-border work. That is why the SDLP tabled its amendment to the Sinn Féin motion.
Key investments should and could be made. For example, there could be substantial growth in university education and research that is related to current and future industries for the region. That is the most important long-term investment that the Executive could make to the north-west. We need decentralisation of Departments and a rethink by the Department of Finance and Personnel of its concerns about the costs of doing that. There was great hope and expectation in the north-west, particularly in Derry, that we would get a good, thriving Department.
We also need increased investment in motorways and dual carriageway links to Belfast. I made the point earlier that the nearest motorway to Derry is 55 miles from there. That is not acceptable. Around those investments we need to ensure that we have a proper marketing package for foreign investment and tourism and that there is development of local enterprise, and we need to exploit our cross-border location and the attractive corporation tax regime in the South. An all-island — North and South — approach to the north-west would maximise the potential of both jurisdictions and turn a barrier into a powerful advantage.
The SDLP wants to see a planned, comprehensive and sustained approach to the development of the north-west, incorporating all government Departments with an economic remit — North and South — that will address the economic legacy issues and get Derry moving. We support the motion with the incorporation of our amendment.
I rise to speak on the motion and to note the amendment. There is no doubt that, in the past three years in particular, Northern Ireland as a whole has suffered a downturn that is not virtually unprecedented, but actually unprecedented. Across almost every sector people are reporting drops that they have not seen previously in their working lives.
I and others have lobbied Invest Northern Ireland (INI) intensively over many years. I do not expect to be on Invest NI’s Christmas card list, because I have lobbied it substantially to try to ensure that it increases the number of potential inward investment visits. I understand the problem; neither Invest Northern Ireland nor anyone else can direct, dictate or instruct inward investors on where they should go. I suspect that, if she could, the Minister — given the constituency that she represents and the unemployment that it suffers — would say that perhaps investors should go there. That is evidence that private sector investors will go where they wish to go. However, Invest Northern Ireland can give assistance and advice.
In the past I have christened the organisation “invest greater Belfast” because I think that that was its mindset. Having said that, I have known the new chief executive, Mr Hamilton, for some considerable time. He comes from the private sector, and I am impressed with his commitment to ensuring that areas of high unemployment are targeted and that potential inward investors be directed to that realm. He also holds the view that the small and medium-sized enterprises — the indigenous local companies — are the way to go. That is potentially very good for the future.
As I have said, the issue of the last three years is one that cannot simply be removed from the equation. The downturn is unprecedented, and has defied almost anyone’s belief or expectation. With that in mind, at the beginning of last month I tabled a question for written answer to the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment regarding the changes in unemployment in every council area over the past three years, from July 2006 to July 2009. The statistics contained in the answer make for remarkable and horrendous reading.
It is somewhat ironic that the largest percentage increase in unemployment — a 220% increase — is in the Minister’s constituency, not in the north-west. Members represent areas throughout the Province that have been affected by unemployment. I represent a north-west constituency, and there are others who represent Fermanagh, Armagh, or Mid Ulster. In Cookstown, for example, there has been a 167% increase in unemployment. Therefore, the issue is not that we do not agree with identifying areas of high unemployment; that should continue to be done, and it must be ensured that the concentration of effort is increased in those areas. The problem is that, if the motion were passed, would Members from mid-Ulster say that their area should be identified as an area of special need, and would Members from Armagh and Fermanagh say that their areas should be similarly targeted?
The DUP tried to table an amendment to say that those areas should be targeted. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that should be done. For example, in the next eight years, there will be more than £1 billion of public expenditure on road building in the west of the Province.
We should build on that for the future, target the areas and ensure that employment is brought to areas of very high unemployment.
I thank the Members who tabled the motion. However, the proposers of the motion and the amendment seemed to confuse the north-west with Londonderry.
It is obvious that the north-west region has been hit hard by the recession. In the past 12 to 18 months, 2,500 jobs have been lost in the greater Londonderry area, and the workload of jobs and benefits offices in the city of Londonderry has increased by 60%. However, I caution against the premise in the motion that suggests that the north-west has been hit disproportionately harder than any other region in Northern Ireland. Job losses have been significant and concentrated in areas such as Antrim, Belfast and, as was mentioned by the previous Member who spoke, mid-Ulster.
The Ulster Unionist Party recognises that the north-west started the recession from a much weaker position, and the party is committed to addressing it. The north-west has some of the highest concentrations of long-term unemployment-related benefit claimants, with areas in Strabane District Council and Derry City Council having the greatest percentage of working-age claimants. The figures are particularly worrying for working-age men in those areas. Equally, job density in the north-west is not as high as it should be, with Strabane disproportionately affected.
There is clear evidence that the north-west is suffering economically. Economic deprivation can lead to social breakdown, ill health and inequalities. We must do all in our power, in a modern society, to cultivate the elements necessary to create economic growth and employment. The question we must answer is: would declaring the north-west an area of special economic need deliver the results that we all wish? I believe that it would not.
We must look at the steps that have already been taken to address the immediate crisis of the recession. The Minister for Employment and Learning has been robust in his response to the recession, creating numerous workshops and doing all that he can through the benefit offices to assist people who have become redundant to get back to work. In the north-west region, the Minister for Employment and Learning, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Minister for Regional Development have implemented many changes that are needed to facilitate economic growth and job creation as we head out of the recession.
The proposer referred to the paper that Derry City Council produced in 2003. The key aspects of the strategic areas of intervention that that paper calls for are now happening. The Minister for Regional Development has invested to improve the rail link between Londonderry and Coleraine. The A5 corridor will provide an excellent new opportunity to develop business with the Republic, including Dublin. The Minister has adjusted the regional development strategy to ensure that the needs of the north-west are adequately met.
Similarly, the Magee campus of the University of Ulster has received further investment. It is striving, and, hopefully, it will develop further in the future. Londonderry has been designated as a Northern Ireland signature tourism project, and Project Kelvin, which was referred to earlier, will bring millions of pounds of direct investment and countless business and communication opportunities. To date, progress has been good. However, there is, of course, much more to be done.
We face markedly different circumstances, not least of which are the north-west and Londonderry’s natural and infrastructural assets, compared with those of the western valleys, for example, to which reference has been made. However, investment in the economy is not solely about investment in infrastructure or technology. First and foremost, it is about people. I suggest to Members that that is a cross-cutting Executive issue.
Education is also an extremely important element. I urge the Members who tabled the motion to persuade their Minister to introduce a strategy to address educational underachievement and an early-years strategy.
Cultivating economic growth and employment is a wide-reaching and complex issue. Sinn Féin wants to narrow that process and merely find someone to blame.
Londonderry and the north-west have a key role to play in the economic future of Northern Ireland plc. That would be undermined by hiving off the north-west from the rest of Northern Ireland. I oppose the motion and, indeed, the amendment.
My party and I have always believed in equality of opportunity. We must remind ourselves that all areas of Northern Ireland have been adversely affected by the global downturn, as have all areas of the British Isles — the Republic of Ireland in particular. In recent times, my constituency has seen major job losses at Nortel, Ryobi and FG Wilson.
I have witnessed the impact of a major economic downturn before. During the 1970s and 1980s, there were factory closures at Courtaulds, ICI and Carreras, with the loss of more than 6,000 jobs in Carrickfergus. The local community’s response was to establish Enterprise Carrick, one of the first local enterprise agencies in Northern Ireland. I recognise that excellent work has also been carried out by local enterprise agencies in the north-west.
In my constituency, there are three successful local enterprise agencies: Carrickfergus Enterprise, Larne Enterprise Development Company (Ledcom) and Mallusk Enterprise Park in Newtownabbey. My point is, therefore, that there is an onus on local communities to get involved to try to resolve the problems that the global economic downturn has created. In my area, those enterprises have shown the importance of local community involvement in local job creation.
Furthermore, in the Assembly, I have raised the importance of job mobility, which is particularly important in the Belfast area. I understand that the entire question of unemployment differs from one area to another. However, if the Assembly were to approve the motion, that would discriminate against the people of west Belfast. How would Sinn Féin and the SDLP justify that to their supporters in that area? The motion is discriminatory.
Some confusion arises when the north-west is discussed. When Pat Ramsey spoke, all that he talked about was Derry city. I thought that the north-west extended beyond Derry. In East Londonderry, major job losses have occurred in Limavady. Are they to be ignored?
I am sorry, but I will not. I do not have much time.
Are those job losses to be ignored? I say no. Therefore, the Member needs to be clear about what he means by the “north-west”.
Gregory Campbell was quite right to say that the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment cannot simply force companies to invest in a particular area. They will invest in the areas in which they believe that they will be best serviced by a particular community.
I encourage and fully support Derry city’s bid to become the European capital of culture. Pat Ramsey spoke about the importance of tourism, and the city’s bid presents an opportunity to benefit from that.
I recognise the problems in the north-west and the recent job losses in the region. However, as I said, I believe that the motion is discriminatory and that it is not in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. For that reason, our party will support neither the motion nor the amendment.
I represent a constituency that has borne the brunt of the economic downturn, with more than 1,000 job losses. I therefore welcome this debate, which gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the efforts that the DETI and DEL Ministers have undertaken to try to encourage investment in the north-west and other areas of Northern Ireland.
I point to the great support that Minister Foster has given to Limavady Gear Company. She opened the new plant at the former Seagate site; it was like the phoenix rising from the ashes. Despite what some people may think, much has been done to ensure that potential investors know of the many benefits that the west has to offer. Chief among those benefits is a willing workforce that has the opportunity to retrain or upskill on a lifelong basis, thanks to the DEL Minister. That underpins the efforts that have already been made to attract investment. Employers need a highly qualified and motivated skills base from which to draw.
It must be remembered that companies that traditionally brought hundreds of jobs to an area are no longer able to fund such projects owing to the economic downturn. That adds another difficulty to the list for my colleague Mrs Foster, who travels the Province and much further afield in an attempt to attract employment to Northern Ireland in general and the west in particular. I thank the Minister for her perseverance. It is worth pointing out that no Minister can dictate to an employer in which area they should locate jobs. That is a decision for the investor, not the Minister.
We must also concentrate on other issues, such as infrastructure. The problems surrounding road access are well known and must be addressed. I acknowledge what is planned in that respect, but I warn that much more needs to be done if we are to have the road network that twenty-first century employers demand.
I refer Members to page 23 of the ‘Independent Review of Economic Policy’. Paragraph 2.2 states:
“the performance of the NI economy depends on national and international influences, and hence on factors beyond the control of local policy”.
I hope that the critics of the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment will pay attention to that. Northern Ireland is dependent on global economic conditions. Therefore, the options that are open to Mrs Foster are restricted. However, as I said before, that has not prevented her from trying.
Paragraph 2.3 of the review states:
“NI has achieved a rapid rate of economic growth relative to other parts of the UK.”
Those two quotations show that Minister Foster and her predecessor have helped to achieve economic growth, despite the downturn. However, the Members who tabled today’s motion seem happy to overlook that very important fact.
Finally, I do not want the west of Northern Ireland to be classed as an area of special economic need. Such a label might do the area a great disservice in the medium to long term and will certainly create divisions among geographical areas in Northern Ireland, which I do not condone.
The Ministers referred to in the motion are doing their utmost for Northern Ireland, not just the west, and deserve the credit that the ‘Independent Review of Economic Policy’ gives them. I therefore support the Ministers but not the motion.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I support the motion.
As one who has lived in the north-west for a few years — it is recorded that my family has lived in the north-west for over 1,000 years — I have the abiding impression of a great people living in a condition that has ebbed and flowed, particularly since the establishment of this state. But, unlike the tides in the Foyle, unfortunately, that condition has ebbed rather more regularly than it has flowed.
In my lifetime, up to the present day, I have always been aware of uncertainty and poverty. In my childhood, Derry city was a mini-Third World, with large families depending largely on the income of women working in the shirt factories for Third World wages. Male employment was sparse; some men were dockers and some went to war, but most, as Phil Coulter’s song says, walked the dog. When the manufacturers discovered an even lower-waged Third World economy, Tillie and Henderson and the other factories made no more shirts. Tillie and Henderson’s factory is now a hole in the ground.
In my rural area, farmers could afford to employ some labourers, many of whom — boys, girls, women and men — were hired for a half-yearly pittance. Children got potato-gathering holidays, which were an essential addition to the meagre family income. The better off were the tradesmen and professionals, but the north-west was a home for general poverty.
Ironically, World War II was a boon to the area. Although hundreds of our young men were being slaughtered on the battlefields, thousands were working on the urgent building of military aerodromes at Eglinton, Ballykelly, Aghanloo and Aghadowey. When the war was over, the aerodromes were abandoned in stages, bar one: Derry city airport, which contributes very little to the economy. The aerodromes resumed their role as wastelands — more holes in the ground.
The fly-by-night provision continued with the expensive wooing of manufacturers, mainly from America. That razed the unemployment seeds fleetingly and, in fairness, paid better wages. Where are those manufacturers now?
Urban and rural development was a solid contributor to employment and to the economy, reaching unprecedented heights in the past decade and providing wages beyond our dreams.
I do not know whether I misheard the Member, because I know that it has happened on previous occasions when people have misheard things. However, he indicated that Londonderry airport did not contribute anything to the local economy. All the information and evidence that I have seen indicates that the airport contributes millions of pounds to the economy. However, the Member said that it does not contribute to the local economy.
We all understand that Derry city airport is subsidised by the ratepayers of the area. However, if the Member is right, I stand corrected, and I thank him for his intervention.
Another devastating ebbing — another great hole in the ground — was created when the American manufacturers, who came here and were paid well for doing so, left when their subsidies ran out.
The building trade, which proved to be very precocious, has left thousands of our people disillusioned, demoralised and facing debt, want and anxiety to a degree that would not have happened in what we might have considered to be the bad old days.
Development of the only real natural resource in the north-west — our physical, historical and cultural areas of beauty — is essential for the creation of a lasting bedrock. We should direct resources into beautiful areas, such as Limavady borough, which includes the potential offered by Magilligan Strand and Lough Foyle, and all the points northwards towards Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush. Those places are hidden jewels and could form the bedrock of continuous support for our economy and employment. Resources must be used to deal with the present and with the legacy of a past that is marked by an often deliberate neglect of our area.
As a Member who serves Newry and Armagh, I cannot speak for the people of the north-west. However, I can relate to the pressures and the circumstances that affect the whole of Northern Ireland. Businesses and employees in Newry and Armagh are no different to those in any other area.
Last week in my constituency, Redrock Engineering Ltd, which is a local firm that employs 80 people, had to call in the administrators. That firm has a 33-year history in the Armagh area and has one of the most recognisable brand names in construction and agriculture circles in Ulster. I know that all the representatives for that region who are in the House hope that that firm can be saved, along with the significant number of jobs that it has provided.
There is no safeguard against recession, nor is there a guarantee of a safe future for any company, regardless of whether it is in Londonderry or Armagh. There is no immunity from the current economic climate, and the wording of the motion divides the country unfairly by referring to the north-west as being unique in its economic difficulties. The difficulties experienced by businesses in Londonderry are no different to those being experienced by businesses in my constituency and in the wider United Kingdom, of which the north-west is an important part.
The Enterprise Minister’s efforts to alleviate the pressures felt during the economic downturn are proactive and sincere. It is not helpful to declare that one portion of the country is more susceptible to economic pressures than others. I urge the Minister to push on with her good work on a Province-wide basis without giving any region special status.
I thank the Members who tabled the motion for bringing it before the House. Like my colleagues, I recognise that there is a serious underlying problem of unemployment and economic inactivity in the region. I will not repeat statistics already mentioned by Members.
Historically, the economy of the north-west centred on the textile industry and on manufacturing. In the past 10 years, there has been a 20% reduction in manufacturing jobs across Northern Ireland, and areas such as the north-west have been particularly hard hit. The reduction in historical industries has been one of the main causes of the long-term economic difficulties that the region faces.
We must be aware that economic inactivity and long-term unemployment have serious social and health ramifications. In areas of the north-west, deprivation has become cyclical and generational. That is a cycle that we must break.
I welcome the steps taken by the Minister for Employment and Learning, my colleague Sir Reg Empey, to alleviate the immediate impact of job losses, and I thank him for the personal interest that he has taken in the region.
However, as other Members mentioned, the problems in the north-west are more underlying and were not caused merely by the recession. The basic premise of the motion is, unfortunately, flawed. The north-west, including Londonderry, Limavady, Strabane and Coleraine must become more integrated into Northern Ireland’s economy, not separated from it by a potentially divisive designation. I share my colleague Mr Cree’s belief that the Minister for Regional Development is doing a great job in improving infrastructural and transport links with the north-west, the rest of Northern Ireland and, indeed, the Republic of Ireland.
Given Northern Ireland’s size and population density, it is crucial to have adequate links that facilitate an integrated economy in which Londonderry is a driving force. It is obvious that more infrastructural developments need to be made, and we are, thankfully, making progress. The reduction in industry has created something of a mismatch between local skills and job opportunities. That issue must be addressed, and it must start with the education system. I reiterate my colleague’s call for the Minister of Education to introduce an early-years strategy and an educational underachievement strategy.
Developments at the University of Ulster and the North West Regional College are improving the situation. The recent review of Invest Northern Ireland also provides an excellent opportunity to further co-ordinate our economic strategies to the benefit of Northern Ireland and the north-west. The review offers an opportunity for the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to provide a more dynamic economic vision that the Minister for Employment and Learning and other Executive Ministers can use as a basis for their strategies. However, the fundamental premise of a new economic vision must be that Northern Ireland works as one to drive economic growth. We must demand that the north-west becomes a key driving force in that vision, not a sideshow or an afterthought.
I suggest that Members urge their Executive colleagues to work more closely to create a genuine four-party coalition that is capable of making the changes that we all want. The north-west, like all regions of Northern Ireland, has been hit hard by the recession. However, the answer to long-term and sustainable recovery lies in a co-ordinated approach across the entire region that recognises Londonderry’s assets and seeks to utilise them in driving the localised economy and Northern Ireland’s economy as a whole.
The Business Committee has arranged to meet during the lunchtime suspension. I propose, therefore, by leave of the Assembly to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm, when John Dallat will be the first Member to speak.
The sitting was suspended at 12.28 pm.
On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair) —
When the Army base at Ballykelly became available, I wrote to the then First Minister, Dr Paisley, and the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, asking them to make a case for gifting the 800-acre site for economic development, but I am afraid that the answer was no. A golden opportunity was missed in an area of the north-west that was about to lose 800 jobs at the Seagate factory and several hundreds of jobs in other places of employment in Coleraine and Limavady.
Not to give up, I wrote to the then Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, calling for the setting up of a special economic task force, but, again, I got a “Dear John” letter. I have written and tabled questions to the Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, on a number of occasions, believing that he was the person with the right credentials to come to the rescue of the north-west. I told him about the discrimination against the people of Dungiven, who have been waiting for a bypass for 30 years, but it was no good. There is to be no bypass for Dungiven during the life of this Assembly, nor, I fear, in the next one.
I told Conor Murphy about the clapped-out railway, the funding crisis that affected the Lough Foyle ferry service and other issues, but I am afraid that it was a case of eat horse and you will get grass. There is no decent intercity service on the horizon and there is more uncertainty about the ferry service. Infrastructure is, of course, essential to economic and social equality, but what has been decided to make it happen during the lifetime of this Assembly? We are being told today that there is no discrimination against the north-west. There is not a brass penny for the Lough Foyle ferry service, but the Strangford Lough service gets almost £1 million every year. Folks, is that not discrimination on a grand scale?
If the Assembly is serious about economic development, surely those issues are central to the expansion of our tourism industry on both sides of the border. I will not dwell on the future of the Belfast to Derry railway except to say that there is still no decision on a passing loop or, indeed, where to put it, so that we can have a decent intercity timetable. The terminus at Derry is no more than a shed, and there are no plans to construct a new facility that is fit for purpose. Indeed, the new footbridge across the River Foyle will not link up with the railway, and there are no plans to move the terminus for at least another five years.
I will move on to matters academic, or science-based, so to speak. Recently, I tabled a question for written answer to the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment enquiring about the £4·25 million that was set aside some years ago for investment in a science park development in Coleraine and Derry, only to be told that the cash had been returned. The Minister’s reply of 30 October 2009 states:
“In 2003, within the Science Park’s Phase 1 budget, £4·25 million was allocated for investment in the North West in association with the University of Ulster (UU). This was earmarked for the development of the Science Park at Magee and Coleraine, a total of 40,000 sq ft. The University of Ulster subsequently decided that it was unable to utilise the funding and it was returned … in August 2005.”
As I understand it, neither Coleraine Borough Council nor Derry City Council was told about that, despite the fact that both councils strongly supported the initiative. The pillars to the site are now lying in a recycling yard near Articlave — testimony to failure to support the project.
In the meantime, the University of Ulster is planning to spend £250 million in the centre of Belfast because it is popular with students and staff. Jordanstown is to be vacated, despite the fact that it is full to capacity, it is oversubscribed and its buildings are newer than those at Coleraine. Serious questions hang over the funding package that will leave future generations of students and staff to pay for failure.
I do not want to depress Members too much on this glorious autumn day, but the people of the north-west, many of whom have lost their jobs, will want more than fine speeches in the Assembly. Let no one tell me that the north-west has not been discriminated against. It is a special case: if the Assembly cannot accept that, and if it cannot acknowledge the injustices of the past and the need to redress poverty, social inequalities and the curse of centralisation, we are only stacking up further inequality for the future.
I apologise for not being in the Chamber for the early part of the debate. Having examined the topic of the discussion, I am reminded of the famous baseball player Yogi Berra, who said: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
Only two weeks ago, many of us were present to hear an orchestrated whinge about west Belfast. Now, the caravan of constant complaining appears to have moved to the north-west. I wonder where the travelling circus of grumbling and complaining will move to next.
I will give way in a minute.
Although the previous contribution raised important issues about the Member’s constituency, the use of terms such as “injustice” and “discrimination” do little or nothing to create a sensible and wise debate on any issue. The Member’s complaint, without any grounds for justification, that his area has been discriminated against and has suffered injustice was detrimental to his argument, which may have had its good points.
No one doubts that the recession has affected all parts of Northern Ireland. In the north-west, the Seagate closure and problems at the Stream International call centre grabbed the headlines. Equally, however, other parts of Northern Ireland have suffered in the downturn. The north-west is not my part of Northern Ireland, and I have no family roots there. However, rather than wanting to talk it down, I look for the positives in the area and can see that it has good things going for it. It is strange that people from outside the north-west want to talk it up and be positive, but those elected to the Chamber to represent the area and its interests do nothing but whine and complain.
The Ilex project is doing much good work, and Project Kelvin will give Londonderry and other parts of that region the advantage of direct connectivity to North America. The investment of around £9·5 million or £10 million in the Walled City signature project has also been positive for that part of Northern Ireland.
I commend the efforts of Minister Foster’s Department and, in the current economic climate, Reg Empey’s Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), in doing all that they feasibly can to arrest the problems in the north-west. My bone of contention is the call for the north-west to be designated as an area of special economic need. Why would anyone wish to have their area labelled as such, thereby doing it down?
The Member was not present for the early part of the debate; I accept that people are busy. As last week’s figures from DETI show, the north-west has the highest level of income deprivation, one of the highest rates of child poverty and the highest level of unemployment. What we are asking for is not revolutionary. We are asking for the fulfilment of a Programme for Government commitment to tackling regional disparities.
We have studied best practice elsewhere, and the Welsh Assembly is able to designate areas of special need. The Member should take account of where that has worked in practice and try to apply it to the north-west.
No one doubts that there are issues and problems in the north-west. Equally, however, I could go round every part of Northern Ireland and highlight various indicators of similar problems. I could go to parts of this city and point out socio-economic problems —
No, I have a lot of points to make.
Many areas in Northern Ireland are experiencing similar problems. I have been following the debate, and I have not heard any detail to flesh out what the designation of the north-west as an area of special economic need would achieve. If it could achieve something, it would be worthwhile.
Other than acquiring a label as an area of special economic need, nothing has been put forward that would positively address the problems there. It would simply brand the north-west as some sort of economic basket case.
I could make a similar case on economic need for parts of mid Ulster, such as Cookstown, Magherafelt and Dungannon. Statistics show that there have been much bigger rises in unemployment in those places than in the north-west of Northern Ireland. The figures in January — the situation has worsened since the start of the year — indicated that unemployment had increased by 161% in Dungannon, 186% in Magherafelt and 149% in Cookstown. Those three local authorities had the highest rises in unemployment in the entire United Kingdom, but no one bounced up to make a special case for that part of Northern Ireland. Indeed, that area was particularly adversely affected by the downturn in the construction sector.
I could also make a case for Ards or Strangford as areas of special economic need by comparing the level of investment that Invest Northern Ireland has made there with what it has invested in the north-west in the past 10 years, but I will not do that. I ask the Members on the Benches opposite to think seriously about why they wish to talk down their area. Why do they not want to talk up the positives of their area? Why do they always want to talk about injustice and discrimination?
Why do they not point to the positive things that their area has to offer Northern Ireland? The north-west has a positive contribution to make, and the people of that area are not helped by the negative, doom-merchant behaviour that we regularly witness in the House.
I thank the proposers of the motion and the amendment for providing us with an opportunity to discuss some important issues. I have listened carefully to all the contributions and welcome much of what has been said in this important debate about developing the economy in the north-west. I acknowledge the impact that the economic downturn has had on the north-west and, as many Members said, on the whole of Northern Ireland.
It is important to point out that, although the Londonderry city council area has the highest level of unemployment, it does not have the highest increase in unemployment. We must take account of that nuance, because Londonderry has, historically, had high unemployment; it has not happened as a result of the recession. Nevertheless, that problem must be dealt with, and strategies have been put in place to do that, to which I will refer later.
These are difficult times, but we must recognise that official statistics show some stabilisation in the pace of economic decline. The last quarter has seen modest growth in service sector output for the first time in two years, and we can perhaps take some encouragement from the fact that the recent increase in unemployment levels is the lowest in the past 15 months. However, that still means that job losses continue to increase, and they are likely to do so for some time to come. That is particularly true in the north-west, where the redundancies at Seagate and Stream have been a major blow.
We must never forget — I am sure that the House will never forget — that behind those unemployment statistics are real people whose lives have been dramatically affected by what has happened globally. I am in no way complacent about the issue, and, as many Members acknowledged, my Department, Invest Northern Ireland and the Department for Employment and Learning are working hard together to help those who have lost their jobs to find alternative employment or to consider starting their own businesses. That is an important measure that we should consider, and I will come to the relevant figures for the north-west in due course.
However, I do not support the call for the north-west to be defined as an area of special economic need. If I thought that such an initiative would make a difference, I would lay my full weight behind it. However, I have seen no evidence that indicates that that idea would make a difference to the people of the north-west. In a debate about west Belfast on 20 October 2009, we heard about the many strategies and the perceived, and often real, lack of delivery on those strategies. Do we really want to go down the road of having yet another strategy rather than considering how to deliver for the people of the north-west?
We should concentrate our efforts on seeing through the many and varied steps that we are already taking. I say to the Members on the Benches opposite that the people of the north-west need delivery rather than another strategy; I hope that they will agree with that. We should redouble our efforts to deliver the wide range of programmes and initiatives that contribute to the development of the north-west in its widest sense. Key high-level, cross-departmental initiatives are the north-west gateway initiative, to which many Members referred, and the Ilex urban regeneration company.
The north-west gateway initiative provides a strategic, integrated and joined-up approach to economic growth across the council areas of Londonderry, Limavady, Strabane and, indeed, Donegal. It covers infrastructure; further and higher education; employment and skills development; science, technology and innovation; business development; strategic regeneration; and, importantly, tourism.
At the moment, Ilex is developing proposals for taking forward its regeneration plan, which includes a strategy board to provide a single voice for the city, building on the current civic regeneration forum, and working relationships are being established with representatives from other councils, including Donegal County Council, to underpin the strategic approach of the north-west gateway.
I heard what the proposer of the motion had to say about the Welsh model. I listened very carefully, but surely the Member must recognise that Ilex is contributing greatly to regeneration in the city of Londonderry, and, therefore, the establishment of another regeneration area for the city would be duplication. Hopefully, she will be able to acknowledge the work that is going on in relation to Ilex.
On a point of information, the difference between Ilex and the Welsh initiative is that Ilex does not have a budget, but the National Assembly for Wales is looking at the area that it has designated so that it can put a budget towards the plan for implementation.
I thank the Member for that. We are in constrained times, and she will recognise that public finances are at a premium. Ilex is working innovatively with the private sector and will be able to bring in funds that perhaps would not be available if it was a public sector-led initiative. Frankly, we will have to get real. There is not an unending amount of money available. We have to deal with the realities of our situation.
Invest Northern Ireland has been working through two phases of the north-west action plan, and it is very committed to working in partnership with local councils to identify the best way to deliver the necessary joint projects and initiatives going forward. Although I accept that it is only human nature to dwell on bad news, I want to repeat the point that was made by my colleague Simon Hamilton. There have been significant recent job losses in the north-west, but we should not obscure the fact that the region has much to offer as an investment location. We recently heard a welcome announcement that some retail companies, Next, Mothercare and Dreams, have all signed up as new tenants of Londonderry’s Crescent Link Retail Park. That shows that the retail sector, yet again, despite the downturn, is doing well in the north-west and along the border with the Republic of Ireland and in many of our towns.
The Limavady Gear Company, to which Mr George Robinson the Member for East Londonderry referred, is utilising the Seagate Limavady site. Singularity, Allpipe Engineering, Maydown Precision Engineering and 8over8 are all examples of companies that are forging ahead despite the economic difficulties that we all face. Despite our difficulties, we should celebrate those successes and learn from their achievements in order to build further growth and prosperity.
Invest NI has been making major efforts in the north-west, and I will give the House some figures. Since 2002, Invest NI has made almost 3,000 offers of support to client companies in the north-west. In the period from 2002-03 to 2008-09 the number of start-up companies per 10,000 adults in the north-west was 194, and that was higher than the Northern Ireland average of 154. We have also supplied £138 million of assistance, contributing to planned investment of £642 million. Furthermore, 43% of that assistance has been offered to locally owned companies, and £8·5 million has been used to support indigenous business, pre-start and start-up projects, with planned investment of £42 million.
If we take the north-west region’s population as a percentage of the overall Northern Ireland figure, Invest Northern Ireland’s assistance in the north-west averages at £634 a head, compared to £618 a head for Northern Ireland as a whole.
I recognise Mr Pat Ramsey’s point that no Department has its headquarters in Londonderry city, and the Finance Minister will, undoubtedly, want to discuss that point with Executive colleagues in the near future.
However, he needs to recognise that there is a higher proportion of public servants in Londonderry than the Northern Ireland average. I think that if the people of the south-west, whom I represent, had as many civil servants as Londonderry, they would be very happy. However, I accept the point that he made. I am sure that he will continue to make that point with my colleague.
I am very pleased that a number of contributors made reference to the strong tourism offer in the north-west. It is a huge initiative for us. I am very pleased to be associated with initiatives such as the Walled City signature project, the tourism development strategy and the north-west destination marketing. They are all designed to make it a much better and more attractive place to visit.
Now that Belfast is out of the running for the UK city of culture, I presume that Londonderry will be the sole city going forward from Northern Ireland. My Department will very much want to support that bid. It is a huge opportunity for the city, and I very much hope that Members will get behind that bid because it will put the city on the map and help its tourism offer. Tourism is a good news story for the city and the entire region, and I hope that people will recognise that.
Telecommunications is obviously vital for a modern economy. Building on private sector investment, the Department has a history of making significant investment in the telecoms infrastructure of the north-west. We will continue to invest heavily in that area. Telecommunications provision in the north-west, particularly in and around the city, is strong, with a full range of technologies available to meet the needs of the area.
Of course, the most notable current investment is being delivered under Project Kelvin, which is the north-west direct international connectivity project. I see why the title was shortened to Project Kelvin. It will provide Northern Ireland, for the first time, with a direct communications link with North America, as well as improved connectivity with the rest of the UK and Europe. It is a huge opportunity for the area, and, indeed, for the whole of Northern Ireland. I hope that we will work very hard to market the project. I know that Invest NI stands ready to help local companies in the north-west to take maximum advantage of the opportunities with Project Kelvin. Indeed, I am aware that Derry City Council is leading a group of stakeholders working to develop a marketing strategy and action plan for selling the north-west in an enhanced way because of the international connectivity. Invest Northern Ireland stands ready to help in relation to that exercise. I hope that Members will be encouraged by that.
I am running out of time, but I have indicated what my Department is doing in the north-west. Obviously, work is also being done by Invest NI and DEL. DEL is equally committed to the economic development and regeneration of the north-west, and has a range of programmes that are designed to increase the employability of people in the north-west. The Department works very closely with the further education and higher education sectors in that area and wants to help local businesses to make sure that they have the skills that they need to develop.
Mr Pat Ramsey mentioned that student numbers had, from an aspirational point of view, decreased from 10,000 to 5,000. I took the opportunity over lunchtime to check that out, and I was told that the figure of 10,000 included part-time students whereas the figure of 5,000 was just in relation to full-time students. Mr Campbell made a point that was taken up by a number of people: we cannot tell inward investment where to go, but if there are specific reasons why we should take people to a particular place, we can point out those issues to them. Leslie Cree acknowledged that the north-west had been hit very hard — but not disproportionately, in his words — and he called on my Department, DEL and DRD to play their roles in relation to the north-west.
Sean Neeson, in a very considered contribution, pointed out that we needed to use all of our tools to deal with the economic recession. That is absolutely right. The local enterprise agencies have played a critical role in relation to a number of areas, including helping people to find work and to develop in their own ways.
Francie Brolly gave us his unique historical view on the city. At one stage, I did not know whether it was a pre-war or post-war view. In any event, I want to address the issue that he raised in relation to American companies walking away after being well-subsidised to come here. There is no doubt that there have been redundancies from large American companies, but it is important to consider the contribution made by those companies when they were here. Mr Brolly will recognise the amount of money put into the local economy by such firms.
Seagate put in £120 million of capital; £216 million in wages and salaries was made available to the local economy; £57 million in taxes; and £1·5 million a year on research and development activities. In 2007 alone, the Limavady plant purchased £10 million of goods and services from Northern Ireland companies. Therefore, although I understand Mr Brolly’s point, the benefit and added value that those companies bring to our local economies must also be recognised.
In conclusion, although I accept that the north-west has been hit hard by the recession, I have not been persuaded by any arguments that I have heard in the debate that special designation as an area of economic need is the answer to its problems.
The debate has been very useful, and I thank Martina Anderson and her colleagues for tabling the motion. Unfortunately, it is a debate during which some Members may have mischaracterised the motion and the amendment. Some have sought to suggest that the motion is an attempt to state that economic need is unique to the north-west and Derry. Clearly, nobody speaking in support of the motion or the amendment was making that claim.
In proposing the motion, Martina Anderson spelt out very clearly some of the identifiable economic need that is particular to the north-west and that can be remedied and addressed if the specific means to do so are marshalled. The essence of the motion is a request for that to be done.
We tabled our amendment because we do not think that the motion goes far enough. I was interested to hear the Minister cite the north-west gateway initiative as one of the existing high-level commitments to the north-west. Recently, many people have been asking where the north-west gateway initiative has gone. It was created back in the days of Peter Hain, who jointly launched it with Dermot Ahern to respond to a particular, visible, describable, identifiable need in the north-west, encompassing the Donegal County Council, Derry City Council, Strabane District Council and Limavady Borough Council areas. Therefore, if the Minister is prepared to accept that the gateway is a high-level initiative that recognises particular need in the area, I do not see the problem with designating an area as having distinct and particular needs. If the Minister identifies the north-west gateway initiative as an acceptable measure, maybe we need to develop and enhance that initiative’s capacity, because, at present, it does not seem to be carrying out the sort of all-singing, all-dancing, cross-cutting, cross-sectoral roles that the Minister described. However, that was certainly in the prospectus for the gateway initiative, as we understood it.
Unfortunately, in this period of devolution, the gateway initiative has not been adopted by the North/South Ministerial Council. It should be and it could be, and we have suggested as much, in response to North/South Minister Council statements that have been made in the House. The north-west gateway initiative could be adopted, and it might then become a vehicle for ensuring that matters crossing Departments and jurisdictions in the wider north-west could be taken forward effectively. That is why we have tried to amplify the motion with that reference in the amendment.
Some Members have asked what designation would mean. The measures that we would like include something that would not be unique to the north-west: we have called for it before, and it is the restoration of the integrated development fund.
The Minister rightly paid tribute to ILEX’s good work and innovation. Some of its best work to address the needs of Derry and the wider north-west area has been in the context of putting together many of the bids to the integrated development fund. Many of the positive things that have happened in Derry, some of which were referred to by my colleague Pat Ramsey, including the public realm scheme in Guildhall Square and Waterloo Place, were funded entirely by the integrated development fund. The funding for the Intelligence Systems Research Centre at Magee College, which was badged as Invest NI funding, came, in fact, from the integrated development fund. Similarly, the money for the dualling of the A2 near Maydown came from the integrated development fund.
Restoring the integrated development fund would mean that ILEX and the strategy board would have a coherent fund to go to when they put forward cases for the north-west. They would not have to spend time busking around various Departments trying to get money for this or that project. Those who supported dissolving the integrated development fund in the Executive’s first Budget should look again at that decision, because restoring the fund would give every area in the region the capacity to move towards recovery and to make better use of the prospects that the Minister said exist. Everywhere, not least the north-west, could benefit from the opportunities that restoring the integrated development fund would afford.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank all Members who contributed to the debate. The diversity of views was interesting. Sinn Féin did not table the motion with the intention of being divisive, and I am disappointed that some Members implied that Sinn Féin wants something for the north-west that it is not entitled to. One Member even spoke about north-west whingers. I was glad to hear the Minister accept and acknowledge that the north-west has had difficulties. I am not sure whether she used the word “disadvantaged”, but my party’s view is that, historically, there has been underinvestment in the north-west.
Mr Cree said that my party colleague Martina Anderson and Pat Ramsey both spoke a lot about Derry. Although the motion refers to the north-west, it was Sinn Féin’s intention that, although we would take in the scope of the motion, Martina Anderson would speak about Derry, Francie Brolly would speak about Limavady, and I would speak about Strabane, so we would each speak about our own area. That is how we divided our response, and I make no apologies for defending Strabane. Furthermore, in a previous debate, my council colleague Allan Bresland MLA, spoke about the difficulties that west Tyrone is experiencing.
I am not going to take any interventions, because I would lose my train of thought, which I do not wish to happen because this is a very important issue for us. Whether Members were here or not, many of them have had the opportunity to listen to the debate and, if they were in the Chamber, they would have had the opportunity to speak.
Before I come to Members’ contributions, I shall make a couple of my own points. A number of issues are important to the north-west, one of which is tourism, and the Minister made the same point, both today and when she contributed to a debate in the Chamber the week before last.
She said that she was surprised that no Member mentioned tourism, but I will certainly mention it. The Minister referred to the Walled City signature project, and I have no difficulty with that. However, other areas have been neglected. I do not mean that they have been discriminated against; I do not use that word, but they have been neglected for whatever reason.
In his contribution, Mr Campbell used the word “mindset”. I could not agree with him more. I had the word “mindset” written in my notes, and I intended to use it specifically in reference to tourism. I heard Alan Clarke interviewed recently about the reopening of the Ulster Museum. Mr Clarke spoke of how the reopening would increase footfall and how Belfast would benefit. I listened to the whole interview, and Mr Clarke talked about Belfast for some considerable time. I was tempted to phone him to ask what about the rest of us —
No; the rest of us in the North of Ireland. At the end of the interview, he mentioned the Causeway and Antrim, which redeemed him somewhat. However, the issue is about mindsets. There are tourist issues beyond Belfast and the Antrim area, and I mean no disrespect to the people from those areas. The potential of the Sperrins was not mentioned. I know that tourism in the Sperrins is encouraged, but a lot of work remains to be done.
I have two other points, the first of which is about higher and further education. Martina Anderson referred to the proposals for development at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster. The Committee for Employment and Learning was briefed by Professor Deirdre Heenan and Professor Barnett, and tomorrow, the Committee will receive a further briefing.
There is potential at the Magee campus for an amazing amount of good work. A number of members of the Committee talked about the scope for the development of a medical school. We hear about junior doctors not being attracted to the north-west, but, between Derry, Strabane, Limavady and Donegal, there is scope for an enhanced medical school. I know that there is a nursing faculty at Magee, but such a school would work wonders for the whole of the north-west, including Strabane. Health inequalities were mentioned, and I see a link between those issues. Such a medical school at Magee would have a positive knock-on effect, and medics would want to come to the area. The Barnett report focused on innovation and research and development, which, in the north-west, should start at Magee.
Last week, Minister Empey again visited Strabane, and he was most welcome. When we met him, we discussed further education and our plans for the Strabane campus of the North West Regional College. Minister Ritchie also visited, and DSD must be lobbied. Minister Foster is present for the debate. All those Departments have a contribution to make, and I am trying to make them see that.
In the time remaining, I will address regional disparity. A lot of Members said that the north-west is no worse off than anywhere else. The Minister did not say that, and I am glad about that. Some Members may be unaware of the figures. The statistics that I have are from the information pack, and they were published in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’. The September unemployment figures show that, in Derry, unemployment stood at 7·2%, which is the worst of the 26 council areas; in Strabane, it stood at 6·8%, which is second worst; and in Limavady, it stood at 6·5%, which is third worst. Therefore, that covers the whole north-west. I know that people sometimes do what they want with statistics, but those are fairly graphic.
I will not dispute what Mr McClarty said about his area of Coleraine, but I think that he wants the north-west to be more integrated into the North’s economy. He rejected the motion, and I was disappointed about that.
In a recent Assembly debate on Invest NI, Mitchel McLaughlin said that that body did not have a remit to deal with regional disparity. If the motion falls, it would be an opportunity for Invest NI to deal with regional disparity.
A number of Members made different points, and I think that I have time to comment on a couple of them. Sean Neeson talked about the enterprise agencies, and he spoke quite a bit about Carrickfergus.
George Robinson complimented the Minister on the work that she did. I will compliment any Minister for any work that is done. However, I come back to the point that my council colleague Allan Bresland made, which was that we need jobs.
I thank all Members who contributed to the debate. Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Ms Anderson, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Mr D Bradley, Mrs M Bradley, Mr P J Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Brolly, Mr Burns, Mr Butler, Mr W Clarke, Mr Doherty, Mr Gallagher, Ms Gildernew, Mrs Hanna, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Mr A Maginness, Mr A Maskey, Mr P Maskey, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Dr McDonnell, Mr McElduff, Mrs McGill, Mr McGlone, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McHugh, Mr McKay, Mr McLaughlin, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O’Dowd, Mr O’Loan, Mrs O’Neill, Mr P Ramsey, Ms S Ramsey, Ms Ritchie, Ms Ruane.
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Attwood and Mr Burns.
Mr Armstrong, Mr Beggs, Mr Bresland, Lord Browne, Mr Buchanan, Mr T Clarke, Mr Cobain, Rev Dr Robert Coulter, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mr Dodds, Mr Donaldson, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Sir Reg Empey, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Mrs Foster, Mr Gardiner, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Ms Lo, Mr McCallister, Mr McCarthy, Mr McClarty, Mr B McCrea, Mr I McCrea, Dr W McCrea, Mr McFarland, Miss McIlveen, Mr McNarry, Mr Moutray, Mr Newton, Mr Paisley Jnr, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mrs I Robinson, Mr K Robinson, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Shannon, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Mr B Wilson.
Tellers for the Noes: Mr Bresland and Mr T Clarke.
Question accordingly negatived.