McGuinness backing training college
Powerful forces within the police have been engaged in a disgraceful bid to undermine the relocation of a new officer training college to Co Tyrone, Martin McGuinness has claimed.
Stormont's Deputy First Minister said he remained committed to the plans for a joint services complex at Desertcreat, outside Cookstown but warned that the Executive faced a fight to defeat those elements within the PSNI opposed to it.
"We will face a battle on this," he told Assembly Question Time.
"There are powerful forces out there within the services, particularly within the police, that in my opinion disgracefully have been opposed to this project relocating from Belfast to Co Tyrone and they have been at their work for the last number of years.
"It gives me no pleasure in saying that but I believe that to be a fact."
Doubt surrounds the proposal for a £100 million-plus state-of-the-art police, fire and prison service training college.
Last year the steering group behind the project, made up of Stormont officials and representatives of the services, advised not to proceed in the current financial climate.
But the final decision rests with the Executive, and the construction of the college is a commitment in its Programme for Government.
If a college is built it is likely to be on a smaller scale than originally envisaged.
The issue is set to come to a head when ministers examine a paper produced for the Executive by Justice Minister David Ford and Health Minister Jim Wells, who has responsibility for the Fire Service.
Mr McGuinness pointed the finger of blame at individuals within the PSNI after SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone asked about the Executive's financial commitment to the project.
The Sinn Fein MLA, who represents the Mid Ulster constituency where the college is proposed to be built, said the project was "very close" to his heart.
"I have to say, and it's not often I get the opportunity to put it on the public record, I have been aware from the very beginning of this project for the community safety college being located in Desertcreat that there was opposition going back years from within the police service to it going to Co Tyrone," he said.
"I heard this years ago and I haven't changed my view and I think the people who have been at the forefront of opposing this project and encouraging others to oppose the project being located in Co Tyrone need to recognise that what they are actually doing is trying to undermine what is a Programme for Government commitment."
He added: "I refuse to accept that the Desertcreat project is dead in the water. The First Minister (Peter Robinson) and I are publicly on the record as saying we want this to succeed."
The planned new build has already been beset with years of delay and setbacks. First proposed in 2004, it was originally envisaged to be opened by 2008 but building work has still not started.
A procurement exercise stalled last year when concerns were raised over whether the project could be delivered within budget.
In response to Mr McGuinness's comments, a spokesman for the college's programme board said: "The Programme Board of the Northern Ireland Community Safety College (NICSC) delivered an interim report for the consideration of the Northern Ireland Community Safety College (NICSC) steering group at its meeting on 2 March.
"The interim report, which is the first stage of a wider review, presents the outcomes of a training needs assessment undertaken for the NICSC by the three services - The Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service, Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
"As the NICSC is a Programme for Government commitment, this report was submitted for review to the Justice and Health Ministers. We now understand a paper has been submitted to the Northern Ireland Executive.
"It would be inappropriate to comment further until we have received the Executive direction."