INTERVIEW : Finance Minister Conor Murphy - ‘Derry people have been through a lot, there is inbuilt resilience here’
NI Finance minister Conor Murphy has said that he is committed to helping tackle a historic deficit in investment in the north west region during a visit to the city this week.
The Minister spoke acknowledged that the ‘North West has suffered for year’ from lack of investment and has historically been ignored.
Mr Murphy was speaking to the Journal in Derry city centre on Wednesday in between a series of meetings with the Chamber of Commerce and a local of number of businesses and community organisations.
Initially the visit to Derry had been arranged to discuss the first NI Executive multi-annual budget in a decade, but the budget itself cannot now be passed because the resignation of the DUP First Minister Paul Givan last week means the Executive can no longer meet to take decisions.
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Mr Murphy said the individual Ministers and departments were still working to move on whatever measures and funding allocations they could and expressed his own disappointment that other pressing major decisions cannot now be taken. “We had intended to make health the priority to tackle big issues like waiting lists, cancer treatment mental health issues, the transformation of the health serve itself, so all of that is on hold which is a real disappointment. There had been a real opportunity to do some strategic planning and prioritisation and change and that all now has been lost because of a decision to shut down the Executive. It’s frustrating for everybody but we will keep things on track, the City Deal here and all the big projects we intend to keep pressing ahead with, the expansion of Magee and all the things that are very important for Derry.”
Mr Murphy, who was accompanied during his visit by Foyle Sinn Féin MLAs Ciara Ferguson and Padraig Delargy, said that it was ‘ironic’ that legal advice now had to be taken on relaxing restrictions as a direct consequence of the DUP collapsing the Executive- the very measures the DUP had previously been advocating for previously. This is because restrictions can only be imposed and relaxed if agreed by the Executive.
Speaking about commitments made specific to the north west, he said: “The north west has suffered for years, as border areas generally have - I live in a border area myself and generally speaking we have been on the periphery, we’ve been ignored, disregarded, investment and infrastructure has gone elsewhere. That is slowly changing.”
He cited progress on the A6, at Ebrington, the business case for long-term development of Derry Airport, rail expansion and other cross-border opportunities and accelerating skills training locally to ensure people can avail of new job opportunities here as some of the measures which will help bring about that transformation.
The Minister said he has been impressed by the optimism in the local business community and among people generally as he met with a range of people across a city emerging from the pandemic, despite the frustrations on the political front.
“People are generally optimistic about coming out of the pandemic, coming into the summer about tourism starting again in Derry, businesses started to come back in and we want to support that wherever we can to make sure people have the best chance of recovery, and we get a real sense of economic recovery for Derry in particular and the north west generally.
“Derry people are like that, they have been through a lot over the years and there is that inbuilt community resilience here, and I find they generally want to be able to get on and make their businesses work, and there is a very strong focus on the area as well, its not just individuals, what they want for themselves they want for the city and the region.
“It has its historical experiences of a lack of interest from central government. What we need to do is to continue to turn that around. It needs the investment, the opportunity, the support so people here can bring their own creative genius to what needs to happen in the city in the time ahead.”
Mr Murphy and his Executive colleagues had barely had time to get to grips with their Ministerial portfolios as the Executive restarted in February 2020 when they were tasked with steering the north through the pandemic. “It would have been much more challenging if there was no Executive in place,” he said. “In many ways while it has been challenging it was fortunate we were there to be able to make decisions.
“A lot of things have changed. There will be new opportunities, a brighter future, I have no doubt, for everybody here. Politically I think there is also a sense that this kind of stop-start confrontational politics doesn’t work. Where we have actually made progress over the last two years is where the parties in the Executive, generally speaking outside of the DUP, have actually banded together either in the Executive or in the Assembly itself and brought forward a whole series of progressive change, brought forward legislation.
“Of course there is always going to be criticism and arguments - we are political parties, we contest the same area for support but in general terms I think most people in society realise collaboration between parties is far more beneficial than confrontation. So the idea of pulling down the Executive at a critical time and trying to focus attention on an issue which can be resolved elsewhere between the EU and British government - the Protocol - I think has left most people a bit frustrated and bewildered.”