Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has branded a decision to shelve plans for Derry’s cancer centre as “blatantly sectarian”.
The gloves were off yesterday as the Derry politican accused Health Minister Michael McGimpsey of a making “a shameful, political and sectarian decision” to postpone indefinitely plans to build the cross border radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin. He said the evidence showed that affordability had nothing to do with the minister’s failure to press ahead with the proposals.
“The finance for this project was earmarked in the Health Department Capital budget allocation and fought for by the Sinn Féin Ministers in the Executive. The Irish Government has also committed 18m euro to the project. This was a blatantly shameful, political and sectarian decision taken by a minister in the same party that denied the university to Derry in the 1960s,” he said.
He added: “Michael McGimpsey took this decision not for affordability reasons but for political and sectarian reasons. There are no votes for him in Derry. Therefore, he has redirected the money into his own constituency.”
And Mr McGuinness warned that the “tenacity and determination” of the people of Derry should not be underestimated, adding that wrong decisions have been taken in the past concerning the North West.
The Sinn Fein politician also pledged to pull out all the stops to progress the vital project as soon as possible.
“Derry will get this facility despite the bias of Michael McGimpsey. I will do all in my power to ensure this unit is delivered for the people of Derry and the North West.”
Mr McGuinness called for a “united voice” from Derry including politicians, campaigning groups and the health, education and business sectors.
There was widespread shock and anger across the North West and indeed spanning the entire political spectrum in the Six Counties when Mr McGimpsey dropped his bombshell decision before the Assembly on Wednesday morning.
Warning that the Health Service was on the verge of bankruptcy due to budget cutbacks, he told members that he could not commit to providing the cancer specialists needed to run the planned facility.
The proposed centre, which has been subject to intense lobbying in recent weeks, was due to open in five years - a time when Belfast’s cancer centre is estimated to reach full capacity.
Mr McGimpsey insisted that the announcement represented a deferral, not a mothballing of the project. The UUP politician said he remained committed to ensuring people with cancer in Northern Ireland had access to services although his statement that new radiotherapy machines would be introduced in the Belfast City Hospital in the next two years to cope with demand rang hollow in the North West.
Mr McGimpsey said his decision was also based on the fact that the centre was dependent on financial commitments from the government in the Republic of Ireland. However, neither the new Fine Gael-led administration in Dublin or its Fianna Fail-led predecessor had ever suggested that the commitment was in any jeopardy. Indeed, the ‘Journal’ has seen a letter written by Irish Health Minister James Reilly on Wednesday reaffirming his department’s financial pledge to the multi-million pound project.