Derry has been “playing second fiddle” to Belfast for far too long, according to SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
The Foyle MLA says the Sinn Fein-DUP dominated Executive at Stormont has “utterly failed” to address regional disparity in Northern Ireland.
He spoke out after the publication of a new report on “urban economic wellbeing”.
The ‘Good Growth for Cities 2017 ’ index measures the current performance of a range of the largest UK cities against a “basket” of ten indicators based on the views of the public and business as to what is key to economic success and wellbeing.
Worryingly, the report indicates that, while Belfast has enjoyed strong job-creation, Derry, among the devolved regions, is the lowest scoring.
The report also suggests that Derry, as a border city, faces “particular challenges” that are likely to be compounded by Brexit.
Mr Eastwood says the people of Derry deserve better.
“This new report is a damning indictment of leadership from Sinn Féin and the DUP that jointly led government here for the past decade,” he said. “At the heart of the DUP/Sinn Féin-led government was a rot. A rot that was characterised by raging inequality and narrow political interests. This inequality was not just simply their failure to deliver language or marriage equality, but the systematic failure of the DUP and Sinn Féin to deliver economic equality.
“In truth, while jointly leading the Executive, Sinn Féin and DUP prioritised and promoted their own interests over the interests of the North West. For years the SDLP has argued that Derry was being left to decay while the rot at the centre of government was allowed to fester.”
Mr Eastwood insists his party was the only political party to argue that the “big two” were leaving Derry to play “second fiddle” to Belfast.
“It was only the SDLP that had plans to bring forward a Private Members Bill to address regional disparity,” he said. “And it was only the SDLP that has consistently called for a City Deal for Derry to drive jobs and investment.
“During the talks process, the SDLP placed a number of key asks on the table including calls for the expansion of Magee, investment in skills and a City Deal for Derry - yet neither the DUP or Sinn Féin have been interested in talking about addressing economic inequality.
“As we face into direct rule next week, the people of Derry will be exasperated but not surprised to learn that neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin is interested in talking about their futures. Why would they be? They haven’t been for the past 10 years. “
“With Brexit coming down the line and a prospect of a hard border, I’m pleased that this report at least acknowledges the ‘particular challenges’ we in Derry face. But it’s of little comfort to those of us who know the devastating impact a border on the island would have.
“Derry deserves a better strategy. It needs one. The past ten years have proved that the DUP and Sinn Féin are not up to the job. The time for a new strategy has arrived.”