Derry needs help to become regional hub: Foyle MP
For many years, Derry has been rightly regarded as one of the main cities on the island of Ireland, writes Elisha McCallion MP.
But our place on the island goes beyond the city. Derry is the capital of a wider north west region which takes in Donegal, parts of Tyrone and surrounding areas.
This is how we need to see ourselves as we move forward - as the hub of a vibrant and dynamic city region driving the economy.
As MP for Foyle, I have been working with my party colleagues in lobbying the Irish government to recognise and support this position.
The recent remarks by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in which he said that Irish citizens in the north will never be left behind by any Irish government, yet again, were welcome.
If they are to mean anything, then the outworking of his comments needs to go beyond that.
There are a number of practical steps which he could take to give effect to his promise.
I have set our four key elements which the Irish government need to address in order to ensure Derry and the wider north west region realise its potential and play a fuller part in the life of the nation for the benefit of all citizens, north and south.
Firstly, Derry and the wider north west region should be regarded as a specific ‘city region’ by the Dublin government and included as such in the National Planning Framework.
This is the key strategic planning document of the Irish government which sets out the direction of travel for key infrastructure and strategic programmes for the coming decades.
At present, it includes city regions in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick but there is a gap in the north west of the island and the inclusion of the Derry city region - which incorporates neighbouring counties on both sides of the border - would address this and ensure island-wide balanced development and growth.
Secondly, we need to see the resumption of joint funding for the crucial A5 road development project.
The Irish government previously pledged to support this project and still maintains it is committed to it but now we need to see a plan to roll out joint funding, as initially promised, in order to see its completion as soon as possible.
There is no doubt that having a skilled and well-educated workforce is key to driving our economy forward and it is well accepted that the expansion of Magee is crucial to achieving this.
There is a role to play here, too, for the Irish government so the third key element would be a contribution from the Irish government towards the expansion of Magee for the benefit of the wider north west.
At present, many students at Magee come from Donegal and, with expansion aided by funding from the Irish government, there is no reason why Magee could not attract students from across the 26 counties, helping Derry realise its potential to be a university city.
Fourthly, as a regional capital, the north west city region would also attract visitors both for business and pleasure and a functioning, fit for purpose transport network is needed to service that. While ongoing infrastructure improvements are assisting this, we also need to see growth at City of Derry Airport and a funding contribution from the Irish government would support this. Currently, 40 per cent of passengers using the airport come from Donegal, and with increased flights and destinations, that figure would surely grow.
These steps, combined with others to promote and develop our city and region, are possible and would help us become the regional hub we should be.
I will be working with my Sinn Féin colleagues in Dublin, London, Belfast and Europe to secure these elements so that everyone in the wider north west can benefit.