A major US investment mission is expected in Derry within months, Sinn Fein MLA Martin McGuinness has revealed.
Mr. McGuinness made the comment in a wide-ranging interview with the ‘Derry Journal’ in which he stressed that Derry is now well-placed to begin reaping the rewards of investment in the North West over recent years.
“Derry has been transformed over the past decade, both in terms of the physical landscape and the mood of the city,” he said.
“That has come about largely as a result of investment in things like the City of Culture year, the re-development of Fort George and Ebrington and the iconic Peace Bridge.
“Of course, there are still some huge challenges ahead and progress needs to be made on issues such as road and rail links and expansion of the university, while the high levels of unemployment in the North West will require a sustained effort over a long period of time to redress the impact of generations of neglect.
“However, its important to remember how far the North West has come over recent years. For example, it can be easy to forget that the employment targets in the first two years of the regeneration ‘One Plan’ have actually been achieved while there has also been some expansion at Magee, albeit not to the extent we would all like to see.
“For the first time in generations, we are making real and significant progress. You only have to look at some of the investment that has taken place over recent years to realise that. Hundreds of millions have been poured into the city to fund things like the new Science Park and the new wings and Radiotherapy Centre at Altnagelvin Hospital.
“There are also exciting developments ahead in terms of the Brandywell redevelopment and the new Arena at St.Columb’s Park.
“Those are just some of the highlights but they represent real evidence that Derry is no longer treated as the poor relation in terms of public investment. The fact that the city is now speaking with one voice as a direct result of the huge efforts that went into developing the One Plan has been a crucial factor in enabling us to secure all those achievements.
“That unity of purpose needs to continue and I want to see a joined up approach from all levels of government working in partnership with the Council, the Chamber of Commerce, local business and communities. I am passionate about the entire community being involved in this process as partners and great strides have been taken in recent years in terms of involving the unionist community. That outreach needs to continue and be built upon because the future belongs to all of us,” he said.
Mr. McGuinness stressed that the combination of investment coupled with renewed political stability has opened up new opportunities for the North West.
He commented: “I believe Derry is now very well placed to benefit from renewed foreign direct investment. In the past number of days, I have had discussions with a leading US aerospace company who are actively looking at a major investment in the North West which would create a significant number of high quality jobs.
“I have also been regularly engaging with the American administration over a potential new trade mission to the North and, in discussions with the State Department in Washington last week, I stressed the importance of these potential investors coming to Derry. I am pleased to report that they are indeed planning to come to Derry and it is expected that visit will take place later this year.
“First and Deputy First Minister, Peter Robinson and I will also be in the US in March when we will be meeting companies from right across the States and encouraging them to invest here.
“It’s important to point out that the renewed political and economic stability emerging from the Stormont House Agreement has created a platform for us to get on with that work.
“Had it not been for the unity of purpose which Sinn Féin successfully garnered among the Executive parties at Stormont House, we faced the very real prospect of the institutions collapsing and a return to Direct Rule from London. No-one should be in any doubt about what unfettered Tory rule in this part of Ireland would have meant. We would have seen the immediate imposition of water charges, the decimation of the welfare state, hikes in student fees and savage cuts to public services with widespread compulsory redundancies. Thankfully, we secured the agreement which averted that scenario but we still face major challenges, not least in terms of the money which the British Government has already raided from the Executive’s block grant.
“Nevertheless, Sinn Féin is as determined as ever to meet those challenges head on. In the longer term, we obviously believe that the interests of the people here are best served by taking control of our own political and economic sovereignty as opposed to control remaining with a Westminster government which is, at best, disinterested in the concerns of people living in the north of Ireland.
“In the interim, we will do everything within our power to improve the lives of all citizens and to redress the impact which generations of neglect have had on places like Derry and the North West.
“That is why Sinn Féin is leading the way on issues like decentralisation where Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill is relocating an entire government department to Ballykelly.
“That is why I recently initiated an Executive sub-group on regional economic disparities which is driving a unified ministerial approach to issues such as the expansion of Magee and the infrastructure links to Derry.
“That is why Sinn Féin drove the social clauses agenda which is seeing real and meaningful employment created in disadvantaged communities through public spending projects.
“There are many more examples where we are making a tangible difference to the lives of the people we represent and even in a time of economic recession, I believe the opportunities for places like Derry are huge.
“The city has a highly-skilled and youthful population, exceptional e-connectivity and a track record of attracting and retaining world leaders like Seagate and Fujitusu. We also have one of the most beautiful locations you will find anywhere on these islands or, indeed, further afield.
“In the past, what was missing was the political will to make it happen. Let me give you my commitment that those days are over.”