Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness has reacted to claims by SDLP MLA, Colum Eastwood that he “took focus off his native city” when backing a proposal to create the North’s first enterprize zone in Coleraine. Mr Eastwood had also claimed the Sinn Fein politician’s support, expressed in a letter dated March 7, was “astonishing” in that “Mr McGuinness thinks it’s a better idea to make such economic intervention in Coleraine instead of Derry”.
The letter signed by both Mr McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson asked British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to select Coleraine as an Enterpise Zone to be announced in his March budget.
Details of the letter were made public when Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster provided written answers to a series of questions on April 7.
At the same time Mrs Foster said the final decision lay with the Treasury. One of the questions at the time came from Mr Eastwood who asked her “to detail the locations considered for the pilot Enterprise Zone”.
In response she wrote: “In selecting a location for a pilot Enterprise Zone, the over-riding criteria was that any zone would be likely to attract large capital-intensive projects where ECAs (Enhanced capital Allowances) would provide an attractive incentive and would outweigh other forms of available financial support. In addition, due to the then legislation cut-off date of April 2017 for projects to benefit from ECAs, any potential project needed to be operational before that date.
“A number of options were considered for the pilot Enterprise Zone, including adopting a strategic approach by identifying existing sectoral clusters across Northern Ireland that could potentially benefit from ECAs in the medium/longer-term. However given the time constraints for the ECA incentive, a pilot Enterprise Zone adjacent to the University of Ulster Coleraine Campus was identified as that investment was already at an advanced stage and 5NINES had already received planning permission (in October 2013) and could therefore potentially benefit from ECAs before the then April 2017 cut-off date”.
Last week the letter to the British Chancellor became the focus of a political attack on Mr McGuinness by the SDLP MLA, who said he had recently asked Mr McGuinness on the floor of the Assembly what involvement he had in the creation of the Enterprise Zone in Coleraine, and that the deputy First Minister had indicated that the responsibility lay with DETI.
He added: “This letter proves that Martin McGuinness not only knew about the moves to site Northern Ireland’s first Enterprize Zone outside Derry but that he personally supported the plans by requesting that the Chancellor rubber-stamp the Coleraine site.”
In return Sinn Fein accused Mr Eastwood of “playing silly word games”. Mr McGuinness has since issued a statement to the Journal which is published in full below:
Sinn Féin’s record in the Assembly and Local government is one of changing how politics is delivered to the people. For fifty years we had one Party unionist rule followed by over twenty-five years of British Direct rule, both with anti-nationalist/republican agendas designed to maintain the status quo at all costs. As a result there was endemic discrimination against areas recognised as challenging the establishment adminstrations. We still have many with this mind-set in the political system today intent on frustrating the change that we are determined to deliver.
Sinn Féin entered the electoral field with an agenda of change based on the principle of equality and fairness. Over the past twenty years I and Sinn Féin have endeavoured to deliver a better quality of life for all, particularly the most disadvantaged.
This change does not happen overnight, especially when you are striving to change a political system that has been embedded for almost a century. When working for change you must ensure that you do not in fact or appearance discriminate in reverse.
In all of my day-today-dealings in government, while I am an elected representative for the Mid-Ulster Constituency, I am mindful that I am deputy First Minister for everybody in the North of Ireland.
I am also a Derry man and as such am I am very conscious of the historic discrimination which this City has suffered. For this reason and realising that regeneration of Derry will have a positive knock-on effect in the entire North West Region including Donegal, I pay particular attention to proposed projects coming from this area.
Within the Executive, the Assembly, the Council and your community, our elected representatives and activists are constantly lobbying for and working on your behalf. Over the last five years, just some of the key projects delivered include:
l Over £100m investment in our schools infrastructure and support, guaranteeing Derry children a modern schools estate with first class services.
l Ensured an additional 572 student placements at Magee as part of its wider development, alongside a freeze on student fees and the continuation of the Education Maintenance Allowance.
l Over £100 million investment in our health facilities with the location of the Radiotherapy Unit at Altnagelvin and continued development of the North and South wings of the hospital.
l Ensured vital rates relief for struggling local businesses.
l Ensured greater opportunities for local businesses to win Executive contracts along with a Fair Payment Charter to ensure prompt payment to subcontractors
l Included Social Clauses in Executive contracts providing employment and training opportunities for our young people.
l Planned for the decentralisation of Department of Agriculture & Rural Development to Ballykelly, delivering 600 high quality public sector jobs in the Northwest.
l Continued to block the introduction of Water Charges.
l Over £30 million in City of Culture programme and infrastructure, with over 400,000 visitors during Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann
l ver £30 million in the transformation of Ebrington barracks from a British military fortress to a world-class civic space.
l Sinn Féin has ensured Executive commitment to over £750 million in Derry and the North West.
In the advent of the establishment of the new super councils in April 2015, in the Derry/Strabane District, Sinn Féin will be addressing a number of key initiatives.
We intend to pursue the potential of accessing a possible €1 billion facility from the European Investment Bank which could fund major infrastructural projects in the North West.
Sinn Féin will ensure that a new job creation unit is established in the new Council structures.
And following on from the ‘One Plan’ we will pursue a new Economic Action Plan specifically designed to address the needs of the enlarged council area.
All of these initiatives will assist the incoming super council in the execution of its increased responsibilities and I look forward to working with Derry City Council, elected representatives from all parties and the business and community sectors to ensure that the North West prospers into the future.