‘Patience wearing thin’ over Magee expansion

A Derry & Strabane Council motion calling for the First Ministers and Economy Minister to ensure that Magee expansion proposals are realised has passed unanimously.
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Councillors have now called for the expansion of Magee to 10,000 students to be included in the forthcoming Programme for Government.

SDLP Colr. Rory Farrell brought the motion forward at a recent meeting saying progress was needed now. He said: “We have the smallest uni of any city on these islands. We have the highest unemployment, highest economic inactivity and lowest wages of any city on these islands and that’s not a coincidence, it’s not rocket science. Universities create opportunity, they create employment, they create wealth and those are three commodities in very short supply in our city. New Decade, New Approach was published 18 months ago and it included a commitment to bring forward expansion proposals for Magee. 532 days later we have had no proposals and no progress, just dithering delay and downright avoidance.

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“We’ve pressed the First Ministers repeatedly and have been ignored, blanked and dismissed repeatedly,” he claimed. “Like it or lump it, the First Ministers own all of the commitments within the New Decade. If the First Ministers and Economy Minister aren’t prepared to make this happen they need to tell us. If they think it’s too hard or too costly, they need to tell us and if they think Derry doesn’t need it or Derry doesn’t deserve it, they need to tell us.”

SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell. DER1319GS-031SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell. DER1319GS-031
SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell. DER1319GS-031

While supporting the motion, Sinn Féin Colr. Conor Heaney claimed: “Focusing on the Executive Office as a magic bullet for the expansion misses the point. Our university as an institution still needs to get its act together and produce an updated business case which will propose how a new MaSN would be used within that campus. We know, Councillor Farrell has his own reasons for trying to focus on the Executive Office, I’ve been directly involved in trying to progress this issue for years, including my time when I was in the Executive Office and it’s my experience that there are two key issues that have held back the expansion of Magee for years.” He said these were a lack of prioritisation of Magee and ‘downright resistance’ from some.

Proposing an amendment that the City Deal funding be withheld from Ulster University until there is a firm guarantee to have 10,000 full time students at Magee by 2030, Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said: “We need to stop setting ourselves up to fail. We need a full discussion in the north west free from the interference of Belfast. There’s those that believe discussion has to centre on the development of an independent university for the north west; a university that will drive the regeneration of that region for everyone in that region,” he said.

Independent Colrs. Raymond Barr and Paul Gallagher and PBP Colr. Shaun Harkin supported the amendment with Colr. Gallagher saying: “How many groundhog days do we need until we say let’s put a stop to this?” Before the vote on the amendment, Sinn Féin Colr. Sandra Duffy said it wasn’t within the council’s power to withhold the money. “Unfortunately from my understanding of the City Deal money, the money doesn’t belong to the council, it belongs to the individual projects, the individual strategic business cases.” 

The amendment fell with six votes for and 29 against. Colr. Farrell’s original motion passed unanimously.

By Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter