There was a strange mix of intelligent optimism and fearful pessimism in the room at Cafe del Mondo in Derry last night. By all reports McGimpsey’s announcement that he had not received sufficient money to build the Radiotherapy Unit in Altnagelvin had caused much of the indignation (not much, says Mark Durkan, quite a bit, says Martina Anderson) there is amongst Foyle voters.
However, given the UUP don’t have much skin in the Foyle game (it’s the only constituency where they are not running a candidate), it is hard to see how it is going to shift votes between the three main players who are contesting the six seats here.
However, that gave rise to an interesting conversation about Unionism’s historic mishandling of Derry. Norman Hamill pointed out that despite decisions made in Stormont (over the siting of the University and poor investment in infrastructure) none of these decisions were ever endorsed by local Unionists. In fact, many, like the more recent example of Terry Wright, actively opposed such decisions.
If there was one genuine resentment that came to the surface it was the sense of how people in Belfast seem not care or understand the kinds of strategic issues facing Derry. To be fair it was also said that some of the negatives (hugely high levels of child poverty, unemployment and stories of immigration) made selling Derry as an asset to the rest of Northern Ireland, erm, difficult.
But the opposition, for instance, to the improvement of the A5 Dublin to Derry route (of which I hope we will hear more this evening when we head to Fermanagh South Tyrone), was seen as playing backyard politics with a scheme that, it was felt, could have important strategic value to the whole of the north west.
Apart from health (and Altnagelvin seems to have an overhang in other constituencies), and public sector cuts one of the big concerns in the city is the lack of opportunities for young people in general, but graduates in particular. There are successful businesses in the city, but they are either not trading locally or otherwise.
One big gripe was the under utilisation of Magee College. It’s something highlighted by the first independent Assembly candidate we’ve interviewed in this UTVtrip:
Though there was a bit of a generational split. One of the younger participants, Andy Doherty, declared his determination to get at least as far as Queens, which he saw has having a proper campus, with a more tangible community of scholars. Yet there may be something of an entrepreneurial opportunity here.
Paul Gosling made the point that the Executive’s proposed cap on student fees might create a game changing advantage for all of Northern Ireland’s third level educational institutions by drawing in students from the rest of the UK. Yet, as Anne Crilly mentioned in her interview for UTV last night, Magee would require the cap on its own numbers to be removed to allow Derry to benefit from such an advantage.
The city of culture in 2013 generates a number of conflicting feelings in the city and the wider constituency of Foyle. One, exemplified by Martin McGuinness’ announcement that Womad would be coming to the city (and a hope that they have a bid in to bring the Fleadh Ceoil here in that too) is optimism. There were some concerns expressed (and not simply by those at Cafe del Mondo) that feel good is not enough to help the city slough off it’s conflicted past in one fell swoop.
There was a vigourous engagement over the whole purpose of culture and the questionable (Eamonn called it Philistine) use of culture to political, social and economic purposes. There was also a related concern that a whole bunch of events will be ‘done’ to the city, rather than seeking out events that actively engage its citizens, in its many and several parts as well as a whole. Although there was some tentative agreement that “A strong cultural life breeds a strong political life”.
So, now we move on to Fermanagh and South Tyrone. If you live or work there, or are from there, then you are more than welcome to show up. If the previous three events are anything to go by it will be both passionate and fun.
Just remember, we’re not meeting to agree anything. In fact the more passion and disagreement the better, I suspect. The politicians who have come along have been incredibly positive and generous in their contributions and their ability to listen.
You can book a place at Eventbrite. Terry McCartney will becoming along and I hope that local journalist Rodney Edwards will be popping his head in if only for a short time as well as other local figures.
But the key to this is the conversation that takes the constituency, and its issues and their relationship to Stormont as their focus. If have something to say, come along!!
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty