General Election 2015 - Foyle: ‘City Deal’ for Londonderry can raise our boats

A streamlined ‘City Deal’ for Londonderry could be a mechanism for transforming our deflated fortunes and addressing a general disaffection with the Stormont regime and politics.

That’s according to the outgoing MP, Mark Durkan, who is seeking election in Foyle for the third time tomorrow.

Mark Durkan.

Mark Durkan.

He told the Sentinel he believes Stormont has failed to protect the people of the city from austerity and has also failed to divert greater levels of infrastructural investment westward.

He also told the paper how he has consistently opposed the implementation of welfare reform here and how he sees a future for the Stormont institutions after any future referendum poll in favour of a United Ireland.

But right now many people think the devolved institutions just aren’t delivering.

“People are not impressed by what is happening at Stormont or the way the put it, what’s not happening at Stormont, so there’s quite a bit of switch off there and just a sense of devolution not delivering as much as they thought it would deliver, devolution not sheltering them from austerity to the degree to which they thought we would be sheltered from austerity, particularly given the stated position of parties and just a sense that the number of times you hear announcements for Belfast and the Titanic Quarter just coming through again and again, so people are very peeved, and that’s why I’m glad we are able to make the point, we have voted against the austerity budgets in Westminster, we have voted against the carry through from those budgets in the Assembly,” said Mr Durkan.

The SDLP candidate says ‘City Deals,’ which have been used in England and Scotland could be the answer for Londonderry.

“We have also put forward the idea of a ‘City Deal’ as a way of providing a delivery vehicle for the priorities and the principles we all agreed in the One Plan,” said Mr Durkan.

“‘City Deals’ have been brought forward in England but not just in England, they are being brought forward in Scotland as well with the devolved

Government there too.

“But essentially ‘City Deals’ have been a way, I suppose, of the London based politicians responding to the frustrations they hear from the English regions and regional cities, that everything favours London and the South East, that they are not getting enough delivery in their own place and their own region, being able to drive their own economy and ‘City Deals’ have been an effort towards, I suppose, devolving capacity to cities in England and while they have started in some of the bigger cities like Manchester and Liverpool, it’s now the case that ‘City Deals’ and ‘Growth Deals’ to use another bit of jargon are being given to cities and even non-cities the length and breadth of England,” he explained.

“What ‘City Deals’ involve is essentially you get a compact in which the Treasury are providing a certain underwriting and it’s different in different cities and sometimes there are particular assets that have been transferred to the ownership of the town in a way that’s not dissimilar from what I negotiated when I was Deputy First Minister and we set out and we got Ebrington, and of course, we also secured Fort George,” he continued.

So who would run a prospective Londonderry ‘City Deal?’ Ilex? Derry City and Strabane District Council? A new gov-co?

“My initial plan was to have Ebrington and Fort George used as key assets, key strategic sites, that maybe compared with the way Laganside had worked in Belfast, so, not locked inside a Government Department and subject to all the normal civil service constraints but I wanted it that it would be more accountable than Laganside had been.

“I thought that in Derry we could go better so that we could get the dynamism of the Laganside model but also have more accountability and

community engagement and I still think that can be done and I think that can be done by putting those sites into the ownership of a sort of civil development trust and public interest trust, partly so that they are freer of some of the constraints that by being entirely within Government ownership, whether that’s regional Departmental Government or local Government they would be, particularly given some of the constraints that

will come in later on, because of them being deemed to be the assets of Government.”

Mr Durkan’s main challenger in this election will be Gearóid Ó hEára of Sinn Féin. Whilst many critics say there’s little between the parties in policy terms these days Mr Durkan believes clear light has been put between them in their stances in relation to both welfare reform, which as he explained above he has consistently voted against, and the National Crime Agency (NCA), for example.

In relation to the police superforce, which the SDLP has supported, he said: “We set out principles and requirements for the NCA if it was going to work, if it was going to be consistent with, compatible with the Patten vision of policing.

“They were the threshold standards, they were not objections in principle to the concept of the NCA, it was an objection to major areas of policing and potentially changing areas of policing, happening outside the Patten landscape of accountability beyond the oversight of the relevant institutions here such as the Policing Board, such as the Police Ombudsman, those were our issues, those were our requirements. We held to them and we achieved them.

“And the line we took in relation to the NCA was the same as the line we tried to take in relation to MI5 here as well.

“So whenever the Blair Government moved to alter the Patten provisions in respect of intelligence policing and national security, to have those

matters lying with MI5 and to have MI5 operating outside Patten’s accountability arrangements, we tried challenging that and saying no to that change.”

The outgoing MP also says that whilst he is a nationalist he will represent all constituents regardless of political affiliation if he is elected, as he has in the past.

“I am a nationalist. I am a natural republican. I make no bones about that, I’ve made that very clear at Westminster as well,” he said.

However he sees Stormont being retained and unionist representation continuing in a reformed House of Lords in the event of a United Ireland.

“In the event of the north being part of a United Ireland, I believe those people of British identity in the north should be able to have their British identity reflected in aspects of a working affinity as part of the institutions of the UK.

“For instance, we would see, in the event of a United Ireland, it would be appropriate for the north to have some representation for those who want it in a reformed second chamber in Westminster just as we’ld also want representation in the Seanad.”