University of Ulster: Magee Expansion

Part of Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:30 pm on 17th September 2013.

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Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin 5:30 pm, 17th September 2013

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  First, I want to congratulate Maeve McLaughlin for tabling the Adjournment topic.  I think that most of us who live in Derry do not see this as particularly a Derry issue.  I notice that other colleagues, particularly from West Tyrone, East Derry and, indeed, South Belfast, have remained in the Chamber because they have some interest in the expansion of the Magee campus.

There is absolutely no doubt that for as long as most of us can remember, the issue of the university in Derry has been very much part of political agenda.  Indeed, if it can be encapsulated in a small way, I think that when you look at other cities on the island of Ireland and how many university students they have, it is very telling.  Dublin has 53,000 students; Belfast, 32,000, and Cork has 19,000.  I accept that those cities are bigger than Derry.  However, Galway has 17,000 students and Limerick has 12,000.  Those cities are smaller than Derry, yet it has only 4,000.  Coleraine has around 8,000 student places.  It is a smaller town than Derry.  In many ways, that encapsulates it for me.

There is always a tendency that people in Derry are accused of not speaking with one voice.  There was a serious attempt by the One Plan to bring all of those voices together.  It was a long, drawn out process.  Sometimes, Pat Ramsey indulged himself — although not today, when we are speaking with one voice — but that is understandable in the cut and thrust of politics.

The One Plan is part of the Programme for Government.  If today is a day for saying that Martin McGuinness should do A, B, C and D, then Sinn Féin will not be found wanting in telling the Executive that they have to do A, B, C and D.  My party has told them that with regard to the One Plan.  Quite rightly, in the past, the Minister reminded us that if there is no business plan, it is difficult for him to deliver.  Sometimes, we have to learn that lesson.  We learned it with the City of Culture in particular.  People in the city were calling from a distance.  We needed money for the City of Culture, and we were told that we needed a business plan.  The business plan was then submitted, and the Executive, through Martin McGuinness and Carál NíChuilín, were not found wanting.  Therefore, if we make the demand and present the business plan properly, and we do not take shots at one another, perhaps, we can deliver.

Pat Ramsey gave a glowing tribute to John Hume and his entry into politics through the university.  Nobody doubts that.  However, it would be cheap of anyone to say that the SDLP had the Department for Employment and Learning for a number of years.  Was there an expansion of Magee then?  Were resources put towards Magee?  The answer is no.  I will not say that that was the fault of Sean Farren, the SDLP, or Mark Durkan because he was the joint First Minister at the time.  However, I will say that they, possibly, could not do it because we had not presented the plan properly.

Maeve McLaughlin outlined today, and I think that there is acceptance, that even with it being in the One Plan and being a Programme for Government commitment, there is a need for a re-energised focus.  That is the reason why a task force has been set up.  If we put all of our energies into a task force, which brings in people from across the political spectrum, civic business and the community and voluntary sector, to refocus and redirect our energies, we will ensure that when we present the case for it, the Minister or anybody else cannot say that it is weak.  Let us ensure that our case is strong.  When it is strong and we have to go to the door of the Executive, Sinn Féin will not be found wanting.  We knocked at the Executive's door for the City of Culture and we delivered.  We have absolutely no doubt.  That was our commitment.  I do not know whether the provost of Magee said it with regard to what we said in 2011.  We said that the expansion of Magee would be guaranteed.  We will guarantee its expansion as we go forward.