9,400 Magee places target ‘not over ambitious’

SDLP's Pat Ramsey.  (1005JB04)
SDLP's Pat Ramsey. (1005JB04)

A group spearheading the campaign to boost Magee student places to 9,400 has rejected claims that the target is “over ambitious”.

U4D chairman Padraig Canavan spoke out following a comment by a Sinn Fein assemblyman on a radio programme this week.

Mr Canavan said: “Raymond McCartney commented that it was now accepted that the target is over ambitious. This is not the case, the target is an economic necessity.

Mr Canavan further called on all parties to focus on how the target can be achieved in the 2020 time frame, adding: “unless any of the parties prefer that our economic malaise continue for a moment longer than it need to”.

However, Sinn Fein said yesterday that the party remained committed to achieving the 9,400 target set out in the One Plan adding that Mr McCartney’s comment was “off the cuff”.

A spokesman for Sinn Fein said the U4D chairman’s comment was “unhelpful”. “We are disappointed that U4D has tried to make this a public issue rather than contacting Sinn Fein directly to resolve any misunderstanding. It’s not helpful to the campaign to discuss these things in the public domain,” he said.

The spokesman added: “Sinn Fein’s official party position is clear and that is try to meet the target of 9,400 set in the One Plan.” However, he said that “nobody can guarantee anything” in terms of meeting targets every time. “That’s not to say we won’t do everything in our power to ensure the target is met.”

SDLP Assemblyman Pat Ramsey said he was surprised by Mr McCartney’s comment, adding the target set for expansion of student numbers at Magee was “a clear goal”. “It is important that we have targets and goals to make sure we are delivering,” he added.

The target, which was set by a panel of experts, was established in the One Plan which was launched in 2011 with the backing of the Northern Ireland Executive which included it in the Programme for Government.

Mr Canavan said the target is supported because it “is what is required to have meaningful economic impact in the city”. He added that the timing is important because the North West economy remains “in a critical state”. “The target was set by an expert panel, unanimously endorsed by Derry City Council, and all of its constituent political parties, the business community, trade unions, churches and, of course, the University of Ulster. It is a central plank of the One Plan, launched as recently as 2011, in the depths of the current economic crisis, yet subsequently supported by the Executive’s Programme for Government,” he said.