Suffering same old problems amid same old promises

SDLP Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood
SDLP Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood

It was heart-warming to see so many old friends and familiar faces back home in Derry during the Christmas break, yet it was a bittersweet reunion.

The deluge of brief homecomings, although great to see, was a stark reminder of the loss our city continues to suffer through emigration.

For generations many of our young people have been forced to leave our city and our shores seeking work and a better life.

We need to ensure that our young people can stay, study and get a job in our city. To achieve this robust action is required from the Executive.

The recent pledge to establish a ministerial subgroup to explore how to grow Derry’s economy and create employment is a welcome step. I’d imagine that the group’s meetings will be fairly short, because we all know the answers.

The actions necessary to transform the North West’s economic fortunes are well established - we’ve been screaming from the roof tops about them for a very long time.

Over the last 50 years a string of plans have clearly identified key projects to drive our economic prosperity and combat unemployment - the expansion of Magee, improvements to the A5 and A6 and an upgrade of the Derry-Belfast rail line.

Derry’s One Plan has these projects at its core. The Programme for Government committed to developing the plan but made little specific reference to the individual projects. We’ve seen no delivery on any of them.

Now it is time for the Executive to commit to the delivery of these essential developments.

The infrastructure and skills deficits will continue to shackle the North West and in turn the entire Northern Ireland economy until the Executive takes the common sense approach to addressing the problem and fully commits to the provision of the resources required.

Many decades of neglecting to fund these economic drivers has condemned Derry and its hinterland to the highest levels of unemployment on these islands.

It’s not surprising that the record of those tasked with job promotion in the region has fallen well short of what’s expected. It is also unacceptable. Invest NI job promotion figures tells a tale of two cities - in 2014 more than 5,000 jobs were promoted in Belfast but less than 50 in Derry. This is unfair, it is unjust and it makes no economic sense.

But Invest NI’s record is very much a symptom of the infrastructure and skills deficit. Investors choose to locate in Belfast because it has better transport links and a larger, more diverse skills base. I am not naïve enough to believe that we can tell investors to locate in the North West, we must provide them with the fundamentals. We must make the region attractive by investing all the resources needed.

We in the SDLP this week won Assembly support for Magee expansion, the A5 and A6, and the Derry-Belfast rail line upgrade to the top of the Executive’s agenda. The members were agreed on what needs to be done, it’s hard to argue when faced with the facts 
concerning the North West’s infrastructure and skills deficit.

However, all parties have committed to our region in countless debates in the past with little or no action resulting. The fact that thousands of friends and familiar faces are missing from the streets of Derry and other towns and villages across the North West following the Christmas festivities is proof that past pledges have not been honoured. Promises have been made time and time again, the North West can tolerate Executive inaction no longer.