In the run-up to next Thursday’s Westminster general election the ‘Journal’ will be publishing a full in-depth interview and profile with each of the seven candidates contesting the seat in the Foyle constituency between now and Wednesday May 6.
On Thursday we introduced Conservative Party candidate, Hamish Badenoch, to the electorate of Foyle. Next up, is Mark Durkan of the SDLP.
Name: Mark Durkan
Where are you from? Derry
How long have you been a member of the SDLP? Over 30 years.
Q1 - Why should the people of Foyle vote for you on May 7?
Mark Durkan - “I have provided representation in the House Commons for the last two terms and I am offering myself again in this term.
“It’s quite clear from all of the coverage on the election across the water that the numbers in the next parliament are going to be tight. It’s also clear that whoever forms a government there are going to try and make things tighter for people here, both in terms of the budget framework that it is going to be set for the Assembly and the Executive and in terms of decisions that are going to affect people here by way of benefits, taxation and pensions - all of which are strongly influenced on decisions taken at Westminster. I think people here want someone who will be active on their behalf when those decisions are being framed and that’s the quality of representation that I offer as someone who takes their seat in Westminster.
“People here also want someone who will use the seat to speak up for their values and on issues that might not directly affect people here but they really do matter. These issues would be such things as global justice, aid levels, standing up against war options, environmental responsibility and climate justice - all of which I get many representations from constituents about.
“Of course there’s is a linkage between some of those international issues and some of those domestic financial issues in terms of the whole campaign for a tax dodging bill which is going to be a big issue in the next parliament. I have been one of the leading parliamentarians helping to frame that debate in the last parliament - I hosted the various roundtable meetings called by Action Aid and others to frame the tax dodging bill and hosting the events to launch it as well and of course that’s about ensuring tax justice not just for economies in poorer parts of the worlds but also to make sure that big business here pay their fair share in taxes and are not able to use international artifices to avoid their tax and then impose unfair tax burdens on the rest of us.”
Q2 - If returned as MP on May 7 what do you think will be the biggest challenges facing the Foyle constituency in the next parliament?
Mark Durkan - “Well, the biggest challenges facing the constituency of Foyle, which is the city of Derry, are of course economic development, jobs and getting a sustainable platform for growing employment here in the city.
“The approach all of the parties have agreed in terms of providing the best platform is the ‘One Plan’. But we are all frustrated because that plan hasn’t really been delivered. We were told that it was endorsed for the programme for government and we were told at the time that that would mean delivery and follow through by the Executive but it hasn’t happened that way. So, rather than saying we need something completely different from the ‘One Plan’ what we need to do is say is there a new vehicle we can use to deliver the ‘One Plan’ and I have been pointing to the model of city deals.
“City deals have been used across the water to take forward cities both large and small and even non-cities are getting city deals. A city deal is bespoke package which involve spending commitments by central government and they also involve some spending permits being devolved from central government through assets being transformed, through borrowing powers granted around particular investments in terms of infrastructure, university expansion, zoning of particular development sites as enterprise opportunity areas - those mixes and more have been used to transform cities
“Ministers in Belfast have tried to say that we don’t need city deals or enterprise zones here because of devolution. However, Scotland are going for city deals - there has been one in Glasgow and there are going to be deals for both Aberdeen and Inverness.
“I am offering this as an approach and I hope that all parties can agree and that non-party interest can agree because having all agreed on the principles and objectives of the ‘One Plan’ it shouldn’t be too hard for us to agree that we need a better means of delivery.”
Q3 - What can the SDLP collectively bring to the people of the Foyle constituency?
Mark Durkan - “The SDLP has shown consistent representation on a number of key issues. For instance, on the ‘One Plan’ our MLAs did raise the point that the couple of lines of endorsement for government were not robust enough. At the time we were told that we were being negative and we were told that the programme for government was sufficient and that it covered university expansion and all of the infrastructure objectives. Then of course when we see bids for Magee being deflected and places that were bid for in Magee that ended up being given to a university that hadn’t bid for them at all we were told that no, the commitment to the ‘One Plan’ didn’t really apply and that we would need to get a commitment in the next programme for government.
“The SDLP has been clear, honest and consistent. We supported the ‘One Plan’ and we didn’t pretend to people that we were going to get more in the present term than other ministers delivered.
“Similarly, in this period in the assembly we put forward reasoned amendments to both budgets and programmes for government to try and ensure public services were better protected and to ensure that there was a better basis for promoting balance in terms of regional development. So, again the SDLP was at the fore in the Assembly when it came pointing out those shortcomings and in terms of the budget frameworks. We have been in a more honest position and we have been able to say to people that we opposed the cuts consistently when they have come through the budgets in the Assembly.
“I have also been opposing those cuts in Westminster. I have voted consistently against budgets coming from the coalition government who have been imposing the austerity model and I have voted against welfare reform measures, including being one of the few MPs to vote against the second reading of the welfare reform bill when even the official opposition wouldn’t oppose it and I also opposed the welfare cap which was introduced last year which is a budget measure that will put limits on what government can spend here in the North. The welfare cap was supported by Labour, the Conservatives, the DUP and the Alliance Party. Only the SDLP was alert to opposing the welfare cap when it came through Westminster last year and it was the SDLP who brought the welfare cap up in the context of the Stormont House Agreement and we identified implications of the welfare cap that other parties were sleeping in on.”
Q4 - If returned as MP on May 7 how do you see your role as MP manifesting itself in the immediate future?
Mark Durkan - “First of all I think it’s important that we are honest with voters about where the different burdens of some issues lie. I am someone who has completely championed devolution - I help to draft and frame the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I want more devolution but I also want the Assembly to be better and more active and creative at using those powers. Everything I can do as a local MP and with all my party colleagues at all levels of representation will be aimed at encouraging that. Anything I can do at the Westminster end in terms of further enablement for the Assembly and Executive in terms of budgetary terms, positive devolution and pushing for relevant Whitehall support for a city deal, I will do.”