Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Magee campus chiefs draw up battle plan against Minister Stephen Farry

Taking the lead: Professor Deirdre Heenan at Magee campus
Taking the lead: Professor Deirdre Heenan at Magee campus

Battle plans to save the expansion plans for Magee campus are being drawn up after what campaigners called the "unilateral outburst" from Minister Stephen Farry shelving the project.

The Provost of Magee, Deirdre Heenan has already held a number of meetings with many of the main stakeholders who have championed the university's expansion and she will spearhead a meeting with Mr Farry tomorrow.

The fallout after the Department of Employment and Learning minister announced he has pulled the plug on the expansion of the University of Ulster's campus in Londonderry because of monetary constraints on his budget is still reverberating and has sparked not just angry words but concerted efforts and protests against his proposal.

Among those Professor Heenan has already sat around the table with is Sinn Fein which will also share the full force of its outrage with Mr Farry.

Following that meeting Professor Heenan said: "This was a positive meeting with Sinn Fein which enabled the university to reinforce its genuine commitment to expansion at the Magee campus, as well as clarify our position on funding.

"In particular, we outlined our concerns about the impact of continued budget cuts on the quality and sustainability of higher education across Northern Ireland and how the current impasse on welfare reform could add to the significant challenges already faced."

Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey has also initiated a number of actions challenging the DEL minister.

He said: "Following the unilateral outburst by the minister which he has still failed to qualify, I have asked his department for any and all documentation – including emails from officials – within his department that led him to make such a dramatic and damaging statement about a key tenet of Derry's economic future.

"If indeed his budgetary position is in such a precarious state, he can bring forward this evidence to the Assembly and the DEL Committee.

"This is after all the department that prioritised youth unemployment but recently surrendered £1m on that project which it could not spend."

Chairman of the DEL Committee, Robin Swann, questioned the authority of the minister to shelve the plans.

He said: "Stephen Farry should apologise for the unnecessary distress he has caused and admit that he doesn't have the authority to unilaterally cancel the expansion plan to Magee College."

He added: "This is part of the One Plan – it's part of the Programme for Government and any decision about the expansion of Magee has to be taken by the Executive."

A city-wide response to the announcement is already under way. Among those contributing is the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce which said the expansion of Magee was vital for economic regeneration of the city.

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