Derry is front and centre of Dublin’s strategic growth plan for the next two decades with Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Minister, Joe McHugh, describing the city as the engine of the North West.
Speaking in the Dáil during a discussion of ‘Ireland 2040 - Our Plan’, the government’s draft National Planning Framework, the Donegal Fine Gael, T.D. said it was a “blueprint for 8 million people living on this island by 2040”.
Mr. McHugh said the plan acknowledged “future connections, North and South, must be taken into consideration to build a sustainable health, education, transport and economic society on the island”.
The Carrigart-native echoed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s recent conclusion that Derry and Donegal, divided, did not have the ‘critical mass’ of population necessary to sustain quality services and needed to pool resources and people.
“We will continue to work with our neighbours in the Derry-Strabane council,” he said.
“They have a joint appreciation that Derry City is the driver and engine not only of Derry and Strabane but of the region generally, which has a population, if one includes counties Fermanagh and Tyrone, of approximately 500,000.”
‘Ireland 2040’ itself points out that “there are few large towns in the Northern and Western Region as a whole, with the strongest urban influence north of Galway City being the crossborder North West City Region focused on Derry City in Northern Ireland”.
The plan goes on to stipulate that “the development of the North West City region focused on Derry City is essential to achieving the potential of the North West and maximising its contribution to regional and all-island economic growth”.
Mr. McHugh told the Dáil that this was obvious.
“The way to develop the region is to build the critical infrastructure and that is why I will continue to emphasise the importance of Derry City being a key component of this framework.
“I appreciate that other plans considered towns, critical mass and different gateways and hubs. They used a different language but we have a city driving the development of Donegal. There is urban sprawl into east Donegal.
“A total of 30 per cent of the labour force in Seagate in Derry comes from my county, while 25 per cent of the employees in the Foyle Port company come from Donegal.
“It works the other way as well. Up to 15 per cent of the staff in Pramerica in Letterkenny come from across the Border.
“There is a natural movement of people, which began decades ago. However, following political partition, economic isolation and neglect and political neglect down the decades, we have to face up to the reality that there is a region that has produced the blueprint for the future.
“The work that Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council have done can provide the fundamental cornerstone for a better region and better way of life to attract people home and to provide solutions for the gridlock in Dublin.
“If the A5 is upgraded, someone could leave Dublin via the Port Tunnel and travel along the N2 and A5 to Letterkenny in two and a half hours. The critical message is we can provide a solution in the north west for much of the gridlock in this city,” he said.