South reaffirms backing for project

The Republic’s Health Minister reaffirmed his government’s commitment to Derry cancer centre on the very day it was put on ice, the ‘Journal’ has learned.

This newspaper has seen a copy of a letter dated Wednesday, March 22 in which Dr James Reilly states that he is committed to “working in partnership” with Mr McGimpsey to deliver the facility. He adds that the building of a cross border radiotherapy centre in Derry is the “optimum solution” to cancer services for Donegal patients. He goes on to state that currently patients in Donegal are forced to travel either to Galway or Dublin for radiotherapy while a small number opt to avail of services in Belfast. The letter adds that £19m, approximately “one third of the full cost of the radiotherapy facilities”, has been pledged by the Irish government.

Following Mr McGimpsey’s announcement of his decision, during which he said he had tried to establish if the Republic was committed to it, Dr Reilly said he had made a number of attempts to clarify his position. “We had a number of attempted telephone calls which failed to materialise,” he added.

SDLP MLA Pól Callaghan said: “Unfortunately, the Northern Minister continually tries to placate us with warm words about how he is behind the project, but his actions betray a different reality. In the Assembly, he suggested there was a question mark over the new Southern government’s pledge to help fund the centre. Given that Minister O’Reilly penned a letter to him on the same say as his announcement, it begs the obvious question as to whether or not Michael McGimpsey gave the Southern government notice of his decision. He does not have a proud record of positive North-South cooperation but any such failure would signal a new lack of respect for the project’s major partner.”