Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sinn Féin MEPs speeches at Northwest Region conference

6 December, 2004

Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald's speeches when they addressed representatives of the Business, Community, Trades Union and Civic sectors of society throughout Derry and Donegal at Da Vinci's Hotel Derry. The two Sinn Féin MEP's were in the North West Region on a fact finding visit as the guest of Foyle MLA Mitchel Mc Laughlin. The visit was a resounding success with a noticeable cross-community attendance.

Bairbre de Brún MEP

I would like to thank the Mayor, Gearóid O hÉara for his opening remarks and Mitchel Mc Laughlin MLA for hosting this visit to the North West Region. It will allow me and my colleague Mary Lou Mc Donald MEP for Dublin, the opportunity to listen to those organisations and individuals that are concerned with the lack of investment in this region and to assess how best we can use our presence in the European Parliament to help alleviate the problems being experienced. 

Mary Lou and I intend to work with each other and with our fellow MEPs to further the needs of the North West in Brussels and Strasbourg. It is already recognised through existing EU programmes that the border presents specific disadvantages to infrastructural, economic and social development. We know that the border has significantly hampered development in the Derry Donegal area, as with the other border corridors, and that it continues to do so.

The European Commission and Parliament are presently working on ways of making cross border working between local and regional bodies much easier, and you all know of course that as Sinn Fein MEPs our intention is to go much further than that.

Sinn Féin recognises the need for targeted investment in the North West in terms of infrastructure, arterial routes and networks, indigenous business development, rural diversification and initiatives to tackle outward migration. We know that developing the competitiveness of this whole area will be all important in the time ahead.

Modern telecommunications and infrastructure are essential to develop the ability to compete with the other regions of Europe and the wider world in attracting inward investment. This is an area where we believe there could still be scope for EU intervention and assistance

There is a fresh urgency to this issue, because the present EU structural funding programme ends in 2006, and the Commission has announced a sharp reduction in regional funding to Ireland from 2007-2013.

As a member of the Regional Development Committee within the European Parliament, I have the opportunity to discuss these and other issues with colleagues from across the EU political spectrum. Work for the regeneration of the North West was a key part of Sinn Féin's EU election manifesto and this visit is part of a programme of work to find new and innovative ways to achieve this end.

Mary Lou and I will listen carefully to those in local government, business and the community who are working together to bring an integrated focus to the way forward. We understand the crucial importance of integrated planning for the future of this region and will add our voice at European level to those advocating such an approach locally, regionally and nationally.

In terms of Derry City's place in the wider region, I know that Mitchel McLaughlin has long advocated the development of the sea port here as a major freight facility and has highlighted the importance of the City of Derry Airport, as well as stressing the need for major road upgrades.  The local representatives have with one voice decried the threat to the Derry to Belfast rail service and Mitchel has argued strongly for imaginative innovative planning for the airport, sea port and rail service.  We are aware of the discussions that Derry City Council has had with INI and others with respect to the regeneration of the region and we know of the ongoing work on energy initiatives.

We will take on board the concerns and suggestions expressed by the groups that we have met today and we will be listening carefully this afternoon when we meet with Professor Bernie Hannigan at the Magee campus to discuss ways in which we can assist the University.  We are aware of the issue of locating a Medical School at Magee that could be developed in co-operation with third level educational facilities in Letterkenny, and will give this issue our consideration.

Of course, I take a personal pride in watching the progress of development at Altnagelvin Hospital which I saw at the outset when I was Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in an Executive we all seek to see re-established without further delay.

And as the British government confirms in writing that they will deliver a peace dividend as part of any deal, Sinn Fein will meet with them to ensure that any peace dividend is significant enough to make a real impact, particularly on the human rights and equality agendas.

Working together and with the back-up of a party with an all-Ireland approach to development Mary Lou and I will be approaching your problems from a regional rather than a jurisdictional viewpoint. Both of us intend to be accessible to any and all interested parties that require assistance in areas that come under EU programmes or influence.

Mary Lou McDonald MEP

As Bairbre just said as Sinn Féin MEP's we will be approaching the root causes of the infrastructural and economic deficit afflicting this area from a Regional perspective and not from a jurisdictional one. And I don't just make that comment as a political statement. It is a fact that for too long we have had two political systems on this island whose vision ended at an artificially imposed border.

Everything gravitated towards Dublin or Belfast and the closer to the border the further you were from the minds of Dublin and Belfast centrist planners. But it was not just the infrastructure in the North West that was ignored by the powers that be in Dublin and Belfast the special relationship and the interdependency that exists between the people of the border corridor received no governmental attention or assistance. The border communities experience specific difficulties that need specific measures to address them.

It is clear that this presents unique difficulties not experienced in other regions. For years we had people from the Southern counties crossing into the North for education and employment. But times have changed and we are now experiencing an exodus of people from Derry and other northern Cities and Towns swelling the population of once small towns and villages along the southern side of the border. This has exacerbated the historical problems faced by those working in one jurisdiction and living in the other.

If these problems are not addressed now they will continue to grow until they will be unmanageable. Obviously we are keen to learn how such issues are address in other areas of Europe experiencing similar problems and what if any models of best practice, and indeed poor practice we can learn from.

However I believe that until we achieve full integration of services  across the border and adequately harmonise the tax regimes much of this work will be very difficult. Such macro economic measures are part of the solution and we are committeed to raising these issues in Europe.

The tourism potential of this region is not being developed to the full. With the areas of natural beauty and places of historical significance that exist throughout the NorthWest Region it is gross negligence by the two governments that not only have they not provided the resources to develop the infrastructure but they have failed miserably to market the region as a tourist destination of special interest. I am sure that there are EU programmes that can be targeted to assist in developing this potential and we intend to explore all possibilities as a matter of urgency. For decades this region has not received its fair share of EU development funds. We intend to do what we can to see this practice reversed. Other funding streams available to groups and businesses such as RETEX 3 and the PEACE II extension as well as any possible PEACE III need to be targeted and accessed.

On this small island of just over 5 million people it is sheer folly that we have two competing bureaucracies, two political and economic administrations and two sets of legal and financial frameworks for business, agriculture and other areas of economic life. The border has separated and damaged communities and it is time that we build the momentum for greater harmonisation and co-operation to repair that damage. Greater harmonisation and co-operation can release more money for frontline services and for investment in our infrastructure. It is important not just to Sinn Féin but to everyone in this Region that we see the fullest development possible of the all-Ireland bodies and institutions.

There is a growing recognition among business leaders that balanced development demands the strengthening of economic and social cohesion through integrated planning and development by the administrations North and South. The reality is that every aspect of economic activity in the private sector is developing on an all-Ireland basis very efficiently and profitably. The northern economy is benefiting to the tune of £1Billion annually from doing business with the rest of the island. Southern businesses have also been expanding and operating on an all-Ireland basis. This can only lead to job creation and job security. It is time that the two governments adopted similar strategies and increased co-operation in developing integrated planning that would eliminate the infrastructural and economic deficits of regions like the North West. I have no doubt that if they adopted such an approach that a case could be made for EU assistance.

As a member of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee in the European Parliament I have a particular interest in working for greater levels of employment, protecting and expanding public services and working to assist the social and business sectors to the full.

For our part, Bairbre and myself will be bringing your case to Europe not as two entities separated by a border but as one integrated Region. Go raibh maith agaibh.

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