Belfast Telegraph

Almost every other person in Northern Ireland city 'out of work' - MLA calls for action and investment

By Jonathan Bell

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has warned something needs to be done to prevent an exodus from Northern Ireland describing latest claims of "full employment" as a "nonsense" given almost every other person in Londonderry is out of work.

It comes after it was suggested Northern Ireland was "effectively at full employment" in the latest regional jobs statistics.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that was a "nonsense" saying how around 45% of people in Derry were "out of work".

"If we go around saying we have full employment then we are missing the point," he told the BBC Stephen Nolan show.

"We are lulling ourselves into a false sense of security.. big conversations have to be had.

"Government needs to be in the business of taking action and we haven't been for so long."

Foyle MLA Eastwood said the reasons behind Derry's economic problems stretched back to partition and the city had been "starved" of investment.

"We don't have a motorway, we have an airport that's not fit for purpose and we have rail links that don't really exist in a way we need them.

"The big issue is about skills. We have lots of highly-skilled people leaving the city at 18 and we don't have enough coming here for university.

"We are hit with all of that and then we are faced with fact we are likely to put up an economic border on three sides. Brexit will damage Northern Ireland. Is it going to damage Derry? Yes absolutely."

Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling has said he will do "all he can" to help Derry fulfill its potential and called on business leaders in the city to come to a consensus on what is required.

"In the absence of ministers, we are not going to stand aside. We will continue to deliver services as best we can. We are looking at each case on its merits, informed by legal advice," he told a business lunch hosted by the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

People call us whingers but we have a right to complain. Colum Eastwood

Colum Eastwood said investment in the north west region, would be to the benefit of all of Northern Ireland.

"If you want to have a balanced economy where services are not stretched, if you want people contributing then you need to invest. People call us whingers but we have a right to complain.  Decisions from 50 years ago are affecting us... but what we want to talk about now is decisions."

He said people in Derry were "so hungry for work" they had to travel around the world to find work.

"The opportunities are not here," he said

"If you base an economy around one city this is what happens - all the investment is going to Belfast. It should go there but it should also be spread around Northern Ireland."

The MLA said a city deal would make a "huge difference" to Derry.

"It's not just Derry, it's across the north west - I am not here to complain, I want to fix it.

"We need a city deal that aims to properly invest in education, higher education infrastructure. We have shown when we have the opportunity, we take it.

"Derry people are not looking for a handout. This is about changing economic fundamentals, a positive offering and we need the government to help.

"We want people to stay here, invest their time, set up a family. If we are starving people of that security that won't happen then that just won't happen and we will see more people leaving."

Last November a city deal was announced for Belfast by the chancellor. The SDLP leader said his party would be meeting with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley to press for a similar deal in Derry.

Meanwhile, Foyle MP Elisha McCallion met with Mrs Bradley to push for investment in the region and for plans for a medical school in Derry to be progressed.

"The time for commitment is now," she said.

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