Officials from the office of the First and Deputy First Ministers have told Derry & Strabane Council that the future expansion of Magee is in the remit of another department.
However, they have said that they will continue to engage with their Executive colleagues to address economic needs and deliver “for all citizens in the city and wider North West region.”
Their comments were contained within a letter sent to Derry & Strabane Council in response to a motion past in July this year. That motion, tabled by SDLP Colr. John Boyle, expressed concern over Ulster University plans to cut 1,200 student places and 210 staff jobs due to a Department of Employment and Learning budget cut, and called for a renewed commitment to the One Plan target of 9,400 full-time places for Magee by 2020.
The motion was amended at the suggestion of Sinn Fein Colr, Mickey Cooper, to include calling on DEL Minister Stephen Farry and the UU to respond positively to the business case for Magee expansion, while apportioning blame to the Tory government for austerity cuts. Letters were subsequently issued by Council Chief Executive John Kelpie to DEL, UU and OFMDFM.
In a letter dated November 25 and presented to the council on Thursday, OFMDFM reps stated: “The First Minister and deputy First Minister acknowledge that the expansion of higher education in Derry-Londonderry is a key element in the One Plan for the city’s regeneration. However, proposals or the future expansion of Magee fall within the remit of Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), and will represent a significant financial investment for that Department. As with other Departments, DEL and its Ministers remain responsible for their own projects.”
The letter adds that the Executive established a ministerial sub-group co-chaired by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who, along with the DEL Minister and other members, are “tasked with delivering a more balanced regional economy, with an initial focus on the North West.”
Speaking at the council meeting, UUP Councillor Derek Hussey queried if minutes were available for the sub-committee’s meetings. Colr. Hussey also asked: “Have members of this council been engaged with this sub group?”
Mayor Elisha McCallion said no-one had and that information would now be sought.
SDLP Colr Gerard Diver said his information was that the sub committee “has been convened twice and the last time was in April.”
“Where is the evidence of its work rate to try and address the whole plethora of issues we are trying to deal with?” he asked.