Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Minister planning to relocate hundreds of Civil Service jobs from Belfast

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan hopes to move hundreds of public jobs from Belfast to new locations like his home city of Londonderry and neighbouring Strabane.

"I have instructed officials to look at the possibility of the dispersal of jobs outside the greater Belfast area," Mr Durkan told the Belfast Telegraph.

He hopes to make the changes over the next two years.

Mr Durkan represents the Foyle constituency, which encompasses Derry city, an area that feels it has traditionally been starved of investment in favour of the east of the province.

There have been frequent complaints from the region that Invest Northern Ireland, which promotes private sector investment, has not put enough emphasis on attracting jobs to the north west.

The minister said: "It is important that, while we have some areas on the periphery of Northern Ireland with unemployment and lack of investment, that the Government leads by example.

"We can't decry Invest NI for not being able to attract companies to the likes of Derry and Strabane when we, as an Executive, aren't putting our money where our mouths are by putting jobs up there. So I am actively seeking to do that."

A number of DoE premises, for instance its Millennium House headquarters in Belfast's May Street, were recently built or are on long leases.

Mr Durkan has asked his officials to report on what leases are nearing the end of their life so that he can look at moving these workers to new premises in the north west instead of Belfast.

Mr Durkan believes "you have so many different functions and they are in so many different buildings that I am confident that the opportunity will arise for me as minister to bring DoE jobs to other parts of the north... I am thinking of the north west".

The new minister's plans follow on from the Department of Agriculture, which announced last year that 800 Civil Service jobs are to be moved to the north west from Belfast.

The department's headquarters will be based at Ballykelly, at the site of the former Shackleton Army barracks, and is due to be ready for occupation in 2015.

Meanwhile, Mr Durkan moved to dispel recent suggestions that he was determined to clamp down on so called "booze buses" which allow people to drink alcohol on their way to social events.

The practice is currently illegal but the law is widely flouted and there are demands that drivers should be compelled to enforce the ban. Mr Durkan said he had an open mind and believed there may be a case for allowing "responsible drinking on buses".

"I don't want to come across as some sort of Eliot Ness who will stop people enjoying themselves", he said.

Eliot Ness was one of the Prohibition agents who led America's fight to ban alcohol consumption in the 1920s.

"I have been misquoted as being a fierce opponent of booze buses.

"Since coming into the office all I have done is launched a consultation on booze buses, as they are called, asking the public for their opinion on it," he said.

"Pictures have appeared of young people using funnels to get drink into each other faster, and the bus was actually advertising this as part of the service.

"That is completely unacceptable," he said.

He added some bus operators and members of the public had argued that "responsible drinking on buses was not harmful at all".

He believes "that there is responsible and then there is irresponsible".

"It is about establishing the line between those and deciding how you combat the irresponsible," he said. He said he had reservations about putting the onus of enforcement on bus drivers.

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