Conor Murphy speaks at 'Gateways to Tomorrow' conference in Boston
CONOR MURPHY MP, MLA, MINISTER FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT
GATEWAYS TO TOMORROW CONFERENCE
BOSTON – NORTHWEST, IRELAND
UNLOCKING THE POTENTIAL
WEDNESDAY 7 OCTOBER 2009
A Chairde, Cuirim fáilte roimh…seanadóirí, Teachtaí Chomhdhála agus achan duine eile i Iáthair inniu.
Táim go han sásta a bheith anseo libh, chun labhairt libh; príomhphearsaí sa phobail gnó i Meiriceá Éireannach.
Distinguished guests, Chief Honouree, Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray , ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here tonight in Boston to help launch this important ‘Gateways to Tomorrow’ Conference.
My sincere thanks to the Irish Echo for inviting me to this prestigious event.
It is fitting that we are gathered here in Boston, Massachusetts, as we approach the twenty-fifth anniversary of the promulgation of the MacBride Principles this November. Massachusetts was of course the first state to endorse the Principles in 1985. Few could have guessed then the influence which the Principles would exert on future British government policy.
The MacBride Principles were a set of nine basic principles for building social and economic justice in the north of Ireland: nine principles that were doggedly opposed by the British Government and its Departments with all of their might and resources – from the Embassy in Washington, to the NIO in Whitehall; from the Stormont Estate in Belfast, to the IDB in Boston.
Yet in spite of the British Government’s opposition - slowly and steadily it was the American people who lifted the veil on the scourge of structural discrimination in the six counties. It was the American people who pointed a new way forward which promised inward investment upon the foundation stone of economic justice.
It is a tribute to all of those pro-MacBride campaigners that their campaign for peaceful, political and moral change in Ireland found support in city and state legislatures across this land, up to and including the highest office in the nation – not least, President Bill Clinton.
This city, Boston – with its rich Irish-American heritage – also boasted some of those who were the most committed campaigners in support of MacBride.
At the time, British Information Services and those representing their interests were criss-crossing the United States claiming that MacBride demanded disinvestment and that economic justice would be bad for business.
Over and over, it was pro-MacBride campaigners – including many here in Boston - who nailed that lie.
It was pro-MacBride campaigners who correctly pointed out that a climate of equality for all people in the north of Ireland would do most to attract greater American investment – and not the other way about. After all no American committed to the founding charter that ‘all are created equal’ could ever fully have invested in any situation destined to prolong structural inequality based on prejudice.
And thus, it is that approach of developing solid investment opportunities within a framework of delivering equality that can – and must - underpin the potential of this conference.
Economic growth that does not systematically promote equality is not sustainable in the long-term – particularly in a transitional society emerging from conflict such as our own in Ireland.
The lessons of the global economic downturn over the past eighteen months have further proved that point. It was when greed outweighed need that we all suffered the consequences.
In the north of Ireland the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has widened as never before. 19 of the top 20 most deprived areas in the north of Ireland are located either in North and West Belfast, or in Derry City. Of the 50 wealthiest areas, none of them is located in North and West Belfast or in Derry. So all of us genuinely committed to public service have a responsibility to tackle these realities and not merely bookmark them.
More and more, the sensible and smart approach to sustainable social development is one which builds the outcomes of equality into the objectives of economy. Such an approach is good for both private business and public benefit.
Its worth reminding ourselves that the north of Ireland is a small place – a population of around 1.7 million people living in an area the size of the English county of Yorkshire.
Yet the structural and systemic patterns of inequalities which persisted in the six counties have still not been eradicated – almost 90 years after the foundation of the state. That appalling vista – which was central to the causes of conflict – was carefully constructed.
Had there previously been the will to build a sustainable economy which would create social equality, then the architects of the conflict – particularly those within the permanent British government of senior civil servants and security establishment - could have found a way to do it. They did not.
Instead the fact is that, throughout the conflict, a deliberate and all-pervasive system of structured socio-economic discrimination – both on religious, political and regional grounds - was central to the State’s attack on the modest demands of the civil rights movement for democratic change.
Up until the Adams/Hume talks initiative and the Irish peace process led to the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, the State was still determined to smother our demands for socio-economic change beneath the gun-smoke of a conflict which it had principally caused.
But the Good Friday Agreement changed all of that. With our friends in North America and South Africa, and a strong united-Ireland approach, progressive forces, including my own party Sinn Féin, were able to map out a template for tomorrow based on ground-breaking and binding legal and policy requirements to promote equality – proactive requirements, including Section 75 of the NI Act 1998, that had their genesis in the MacBride Principles campaign.
Implementing those new requirements over the past decade has been a huge battle, with conservative forces opposed to democratic change still seeking to diminish and dilute the Good Friday Agreement on a constant basis.
But - as an Irish Republican – let me say this: I am someone who is well used to battle.
And the crucial difference here in 2009 is that those of us fighting politically for social and economic change now have the laws and government on our side: equality laws drawn directly from the Good Friday Agreement; and a governing Executive elected directly by Irish people in the six counties, in which I am proud to serve as the Minister for Regional Development.
And that is the transformed context in which this tremendous conference is now taking place.
It is now about building bridges to the future having learned the lessons of the past.
It is now about creating new economic opportunities to generate prosperity within a central framework of growing equality.
And it is now about making certain that no-one is ever again left behind as we open ‘Gateways to Tomorrow’ – least of all those communities and localities that suffered most during the conflict.
Since the restoration of our political institutions in May 2007, much has been done to develop and sustain the Irish peace process. The US has continued to play a central role in this effort. The recent appointment of the US economic envoy to Ireland, Declan Kelly, reaffirms those strong linkages, and continued US support for building peace and economic growth based on equality and tackling objective need is warmly welcomed. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will also be in Ireland next Monday for political discussions with Gerry Adams and other party leaders.
This unflagging friendship, and practical help and support, is deeply valued. I sincerely hope that the political, economic and community leaders from Massachusetts will remain part of this ongoing effort now and in the future as a result of this conference.
At home our Executive is almost two years into an agreed, cross-party Programme for Government which reflects local needs and aspirations. These are premised on the fundamental principles of equality and tackling objective need, an end to decades of political discrimination, a requirement for partnership and power-sharing, and a strong commitment to grow economic prosperity in a way which tackles ongoing poverty.
The All-Ireland architecture of the political institutions is also critical. Our All-Ireland bodies and structures have played a pivotal role in ensuring that we act in the best interests and to the mutual benefit of all the people of Ireland, in terms of economic growth, tourism, agriculture, transportation, and social development.
However it is the north-west region of Ireland – and Derry City in particular as the regional capital – which forms the focus of this conference over the next two days.
And in order for us to identify the future opportunities both in - and for – the region around Derry, we firstly need to understand what the citizens of that great city are currently doing to build its potential, in conjunction with Executive Departments, Councils, the business sector, academia, cultural and community development organisations, the equality constituency, and others.
Much of this work is being anchored by ILEX – Derry City’s urban regeneration company. A key element of ILEX’s work is the transformation of two former British Army bases in Derry that have been vacated after the withdrawal of troops as a direct consequence of the peace process.
The centre-piece of ILEX’s work is a major strategic development process that is ongoing as we speak. It involves the most comprehensive assessment of needs and inequalities – involving the greatest grassroots participation across all sectors and all communities – that has ever been conducted into the socio-economic fabric of Derry City.
Groups and communities which were previously isolated and excluded are now an integral part of a bottom-up process to set the terms and targets for future regeneration. Not only are they canvassing on the ground, they are analysing and interpreting that information as equal participants in shaping the regeneration strategy. They are no longer pawns for power-brokers.
Every participant, from the overall Strategy Board to the local street corner, is absolutely determined that this process – thorough, detailed and intensive - will lead to the most transformative and positive set of inter-related strategic objectives ever developed for the city.
The mission statement for the ILEX strategic Mark 2 regeneration plan, within which all of this work is taking place, is worth quoting:
“Our Mission is to deliver Renewal – Economic, Physical and Social, building a stronger and more vibrant economy with increased prosperity for our city and region, in ways which ensure that opportunities and benefits from regeneration are targeted towards the most deprived groups in our communities.
…. the proposals must demonstrate how they will bring about measurable improvements for those groups who have been identified as experiencing inequality, for example in housing, education, employment, and health.”
This mission statement embodies arguably the most progressive public policy focus currently existing in Ireland and Britain for marrying future economic prosperity with the promotion of equality. It is the shared public policy framework for Derry City’s long-term future development. As such, it carries profound opportunities for the entire north-west region.
Not only has the ILEX mission statement set the agenda for the regeneration process in Derry city. But it has set the pace of progress - spelling out that ‘how we do things’ is as important as ‘what we do’.
It has redefined the concept of progress to be about delivering on meaningful targets rather than meeting false timescales, and changing the outcomes of the future by changing the patterns of the past.
The ILEX process is now tantalisingly close to ensuring that – for the very first time – all the people of Derry are part of determining their future socio-economic direction. Having waited so long for such an opportunity, we must all now have the patience and foresight to see it through over the next period. Impatience at this stage could become the true enemy of progress down the line.
The bottom line is this: the full participation of all sectors - at all stages - is a prerequisite for the success of ILEX. And the order of business is there for all to follow – in the agreed terms of reference and mission statement of the current ILEX process. Public authorities must fully respect and fully service this new progressive way of doing business. They must provide the necessary information on inequalities and genuine support for all sectors which is required to help the ILEX process deliver. It is more important than ever that we take time to get this process right. On behalf of my Department, and my party, I am determined that no-one can be left behind and that no corners can be cut.
I have no doubt that this approach will ensure Derry’s incredible opportunities are fully developed - for investors and citizens alike – in ways that create profit whilst sharing wealth by targeting, in particular, the most deprived sectors and communities.
This is a ground-breaking agenda for redressing the failed patterns of the past because it has now achieved common endorsement across all sectors of society.
It is THE public policy – under the umbrella of the Office of the joint First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness - within which the entire public sector and private sector have agreed to move forward.
In the Irish language we have a saying: “Ní neart go cur le cheile” – meaning, ‘in unity, there is strength’.
And in the unity of Derry around the cutting edge mission statement of ILEX shines a blinding strength that few other cities, anywhere in the western world, can boast.
It is a strength of vision, purpose and belief that the city – which spawned our civil rights movement of the 1960s – can now stand tall and proud together in a delivering sustainable economic agenda which meets the needs of ALL its citizens – and the wider north-west - in the 21st century.
But the north-west of Ireland not only now has the united-will to deliver for its investors and its citizens. It has also rapidly developed the wares which bring added-value for the entire region – particularly its local leadership, some of whom are here with us.
Many of you will know County Donegal and Derry City well. In the past two years, some will have walked Derry’s historic full-length city battlements, or gazed across the glorious waterfront from the steps of the Guildhall, or stood in front of the world-famous wall of freedom that bears the legend ‘You are now entering Free Derry’.
People like Mary-Louise Mallick – New York State’s First Deputy Comptroller, and Senator Therese Murray – this great state’s Senate President, have personally seen the pride and the potential of Derry at first-hand over the past two years.
Some might well claim negatively that the north-west region of Ireland is on the periphery, of the periphery, of the periphery…. of western Europe.
But like many things in life, the truth cuts both ways.
Being on the edge of Europe means the north-west of Ireland is the best-placed landing point for ventures from North America.
It is truly America’s gateway into Europe. This was recently exemplified by Hibernia Atlantic’s decision to run the Project Kelvin transatlantic fibre-optic telecommunications cable into a brand new centralised ‘telehouse’ which will be based not only in Derry, but in the heart of one of ILEX’s key regeneration sites – the British Army’s former Fort George camp.
Project Kelvin is literally a direct link between North America and north-west Ireland – providing the fastest ever direct IT connections between Europe and America, with the ‘telehouse’ in Derry as the central hub.
It is a testimony to the unity of purpose and strong practical determination displayed by the political, business and civic leadership of the entire north-west – Derry and Donegal - that their combined lobby succeeded in securing the ‘telehouse’ to Fort George.
This purpose and determination is also central to the entire ILEX project, anchored around its ground-breaking mission statement. No-one should be under any illusion: this perfect storm of progress that is driving ILEX’s strategic development can now – with continued patience and careful commitment – open up a new horizon to an equal place in the sun for investors and communities alike, throughout the north-west of Ireland.
But the job of all of us in public service must be to ensure that the development of employment and skills – including those arising from magnificent opportunities like Project Kelvin – are targeted on the basis of the cross-sectoral agreed public policy framework embodied within ILEX’s mission statement.
Of course, from a personal Ministerial point of view, the north-west region of Ireland is absolutely central to my own Departmental plans.
Together with the Irish government, my Department – with the cross-party support of the Executive – is pumping hundreds of millions of pounds into rapidly transforming the transport infrastructure of the entire north-west.
All-Ireland planning between me and my ministerial counterpart in Dublin is delivering the new A5 dual carriageway directly linking the capital city of Dublin to the north-west of Ireland, and reducing journey times to just over two hours. Derry City is also getting major new dual carriageway infrastructure to maximise direct links from Belfast.
City of Derry airport is undertaking a runway extension project, with £14 million jointly being contributed from the Executive and the Irish government.
One of my Department’s other key priorities is investment in the north-west’s rail infrastructure, to make public transport the first choice for all rather than a last resort for many. When I became Minister, I lifted previous restrictions which actually prevented investment on the Belfast to Derry railway line. The renewal of a large part of the track is now due to commence in 2011/12, with estimated costs in the region of £75 million.
Derry’s Port has seen its trade double in the past five years, with a particular emphasis on distribution of fuel and material for the agriculture sector. My Department is continuing to work with the Port to ensure that even greater commercial flexibility is given to the Trustees – opening up further opportunities for strategic growth within a continuing framework of public regulation.
I am actively promoting all-Ireland spatial, strategic and regional planning to an extent never before seen between Derry and Donegal. This is including the fundamental review of the North’s Regional Development Strategy which I am currently undertaking.
This new Regional Development Strategy will set out the fine detail of the broad-brush agenda I have outlined here this evening: driving economic prosperity within a framework of delivering equality.
By utilising public procurement guidance for embedding structured retraining, apprenticeships and targeted employment opportunities for the unemployed, Departments – like my own - can also add value to public sector investments by targeting gains towards the most deprived sectors of society.
So it is clear for anyone to see that the components of massive progress and plans for unprecedented development have now collided to make Derry and the north-west of Ireland an undeniable opportunity for future investment and formidable growth.
It is now four decades since ordinary citizens marched through Derry city to demand basic rights of equality and participation in their own society. Forty years later, in the context of the peace process, this conference shows just how far we have all travelled. But there is still a journey ahead. And - as we proceed - no-one can be left behind this time.
The ‘Gateways to Tomorrow’ must maximise the opportunities of today to end the patterns of the past. That is our task. That is our responsibility. And that is my commitment to you here tonight.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh