Chris Donnelly was writing in Monday’s Irish News about the need to address the economic situation in the city of Derry. He outlined the major issues.
Derry needs an injection not just of cash but of people. It should be the Galway of the north, itself a city in which 1 in 5 residents are students. Derry has the lowest Higher Education provision of the fifteen largest towns and cities with degree-granting institutions across the island. Sligo has a similar number of undergraduate students as Derry in spite of a fraction of the latter’s population.
The relationship between Derry and The University of Ulster remains one of love if not unrequited then certainly far from fully reciprocated. The attentions of the university’s authorities remain firmly fixed on its new Belfast campus. They have failed to significantly increase student numbers at Magee to the initial target figure of almost 10,000 (which it has now reduced to 6,000) thereby fuelling the campaign for a new stand alone university in the city.
The City Deal announced last year provided an injection of cash from Westminster that will be matched by Stormont, though it is more than ironic that the University of Ulster stands to benefit significantly from the Deal as it is poised to be the delivery partner for the research, technology and digital elements of the plan.
Prominent local business figures, such as Brendan Duddy, have publicly slammed Invest NI for failing to prioritise and set targets for investment in the city. Yet the fact that Diane Dodds as Economy Minister proclaimed her unhappiness at 850 undergraduate places being moved from Jordanstown to Derry’s Magee campus (instead of Coleraine) earlier this year confirms what was already known. Political unionism does not see any political or electoral merit in giving priority to helping the city address its many challenges. The likelihood of the solitary unionist MLA in Foyle losing his seat within the next decade will mean that Derry’s people will have to rely on the nationalist parties to not only articulate its case but deliver as well.
Chris also points out that the city has had politicians right at the top of government locally;
Yet the politicians speaking out angrily about the city’s continued neglect by Stormont are from the very same parties who sit around Stormont’s Executive table. This is the city, after all, of two former Deputy First Ministers and the current SDLP leader. It is within the remit of local politicians to raise the cap on university places which could help address enrolment at Magee, particularly if it was treated as a political priority by both nationalist parties.
Derry’s struggles are rooted both in the paucity of vision and delivery deficit that characterises Stormont politics.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs