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Conor Murphy, Gateways to Tomorrow

Address of Conor Murphy MP MLA, Minister of Regional Development, to the Opening Session of Gateways to Tomorrow Conference

It is fitting that we are gathered here in Boston, Massachusetts, as we approach the twenty-fifth anniversary of the promulgation of the MacBride Principles this November.  Massachusetts was of course the first state to endorse the Principles in 1985.  Few could have guessed then the influence which the Principles would exert on future British government policy.

In the north of Ireland the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has widened as never before.  19 of the top 20 most deprived areas in the north of Ireland are located either in North and West Belfast, or in Derry City.  Of the 50 wealthiest areas, none of them is located in North and West Belfast or in Derry. So all of us genuinely committed to public service have a responsibility to tackle these realities and not merely bookmark them.

More and more, the sensible and smart approach to sustainable social development is one which builds the outcomes of equality into the objectives of economy. Such an approach is good for both private business and public benefit.

A Chairde, Cuirím fáilte roimh…[sanadóirí, Teachtaí chomhdhala agus achan duine eile I Iathair inniu.

Táim go han sásta a bheith anseo libh, chun labhairt libh; príomhphearsaí sa phobail gnó I meiriceá Éireannach

Distinguished guests, Chief Honouree, Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray , ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here tonight in Boston to help launch this important ‘Gateways to Tomorrow’ Conference.

My sincere thanks to the Irish Echo for inviting me to this prestigious event. Tonight and throughout the course of this important conference event quite a significant group of people are being brought together – leaders from across a range of disciplines, including government, academia, private sector business and community.

Since the restoration of our political institutions in 2007, much has been done to develop and sustain the Irish Peace Process and to realise the socio-economic benefits for the people of Ireland.

The US has played a central role in this effort over the past decade and more.  In fact the recent appointment of the US economic envoy to Ireland, Mr Declan kelly reaffirms that strong link and demonstrates the continued support of the US in building the peace and economic growth based on equality and fairness.

US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton will also be in Ireland next Monday for political discussions with Gerry Adams and other party leaders.

This Conference is of significant importance also in this broader effort.  Our focus is centred upon investment and co-operation now and in the time ahead. It is about creating new opportunities, new partnerships between Boston and North-West Ireland.

I am delighted to have been invited to address this important event and sincerely hope that we can use it to create maximum benefit to the citizens of Boston and North-West Ireland.

I want to recognize and affirm the crucial role played by Irish America and the Irish Echo in developing an inclusive peace process and in putting equality and human rights at the heart of the agreement on behalf of all the people across the island of Ireland.

This unflagging friendship and practical help and support is beyond value. I hope that the political, economic and community leaders from Massachusetts can be part of this ongoing effort now and in the future as a result of our conversation here over the next two days.

At home our Executive which, although still in its early days, has set a Programme for Government which reflects local needs and aspirations. These are premised on the fundamental principles of equality and fairness, an end to decades of political discrimination, partnership and power-sharing.

The All-Ireland architecture of our political institutions are also critical. Our All-Ireland bodies and structures have played a pivotal role in ensuring that we act in the best interests and to the mutual benefit of all the people of Ireland in terms of economic growth, tourism, agriculture, transportation and so on.

We have a cadre of talented and committed people – working across all sectors of our society who work tirelessly to ensure that we realise our potential.

More specifically, I would now like to tell you about some of the things my Department, the Department for Regional Development, is doing to help unlock the potential of the North West. Regional Planning and Transportation are not only central to the development and maintenance of a healthy economy but have a major role to play in setting the sustainable agenda.

Regional Planning and Transportation

I have initiated a fundamental review of the North’s Regional Development Strategy, which currently underway. Central to this strategy is the North-West region of Ireland. Derry is the regional capital city ofNorth West Ireland. The North West Region is the local government districts of Derry, Limavady, Strabane Letterkenny and County Donegal.

Derry is the fourth largest city on the island. Along with Letterkenny, it operates as a gateway for the whole of the North West Region providing employment, education and health services to a wide area.This region of some 300,000 people has a young population and this will have consequences for future growth, housing, education and employment.

I believe that we must now actively plan for economic recovery and a return to prosperity. It will depend upon centres such as Derry and Letterkenny becoming the drivers for this move forward and providing the conditions needed for business incubation, innovation and educational and research excellence. This will aid recovery not just in the North West but across the whole island.

We have seen drastic changes in the economic position at home and throughout the world in the last 12 months. Changes so marked that many people fully understand that bold solutions, and not simply balancing efforts, will be required for recovery. These solutions need to deal with how we adapt to climate change, how we harness knowledge and greener technologies, and how we balance economic growth with living more sustainable lives.

The Executive in the North have agreed to move forward with a cross border Initiative which brings together the resources of government departments north and south to work for the North West Region.This approach reflects the new dispensation and political reality of All-Ireland collaboration.

We are also devising an overarching spatial framework for this North West Gateway which will have three core objectives;

· Developing an Integrated Cross Border Approach to Planning and Policy.

· Working towards an Effective Cross Border Implementation Mechanism.

· Prioritisation of Resources on a Cross Border Basis.

Already ILEX, the Derry City Regeneration Company, is leading the way through a masterplan approach which links into the wider cross border transportation and community network. This is supported by agreements between Government Departments on the delivery of selected health and higher education services on a cross border basis.

Roads

On roads and transportation, our aim is to deliver high quality infrastructure within the region, including quite significant roads that will hugely improve its linkages with both Belfast and Dublin and the rest of Ireland.

Only recently we have completed a 4 lane highway to the north and east of Derry.

We currently have a roads project under construction between Derry and the City of Derry Airport. This will improve connections with the regional airport.

Over the coming years, in excess of £1.2 billion will be spent on providing other major road schemes to connect Belfast to Derry and Derry to Dublin including a 54 mile dual carriageway from – the longest single road project ever to be undertaken in Ireland.

The North West will enjoy considerably reduced journey times to Ireland’s two major cities.

Ports

The Port of Derry is a success story. It is a Trust Port – a statutory body, operating on a commercial basis for the benefit of the local economy with surpluses re-invested to improve and develop facilities. Over the past five years trade through the Port has doubled, as has its annual profit. Over this period the Port has strengthened its importance as a significant gateway for the North West of Ireland, particularly for the distribution of fuel and material for the agricultural industry.

The Port is currently developing its plans for the next five years and I want to commend the Harbour Commissioners as they seek to re-enforce the Port’s contribution to the economy of the North West; and to fulfil its potential as an economic driver for the region.

At governmental level, the Executive in the North fully recognises the strategic importance of having a vibrant, efficient ports sector able to support the economy. We are currently working to reform the legislative and governance framework within which the trust ports, such as Derry, operate. We want them to be able to operate even more efficiently and effectively; and be better able to respond to the commercial opportunities that hopefully will arise in the future.

CITY OF DERRY AIRPORT

We have made significant levels of investment in CODA.

The Executive, jointly with the Irish Government, is providing £14 million of public financing to assist a £19 million Runway Safety Project which is now virtually completed.

RAIL INVESTMENT

One of my Department’s key objectives in investing in public transport is to make our public transport a first choice rather than a last resort. We are working to encourage commuters and other travellers to use public transport for their journeys instead of the private car.

Significant

Capital investment in railways in 2008/09 and over the next two years is £137m. The indicative total for the 7 years from 2011/12 onwards is £320m.

When I came into office I lifted the restrictions on investment in the Belfast to Derry line. That enabled bids for a substantial upgrade to the Belfast to Derry line to be submitted as part of the investment strategy for the region through to 2018.

I am pleased to say that the renewal of the track between Coleraine to Derry is due to commence in 2011/12. It is a major project with estimated costs in the region of £75m.

The purchase of 20 new trains which is currently underway will allow two additional trains to be deployed on the Belfast/Derry line and will facilitate the delivery of an enhanced level of service when the Coleraine to Derry track relay is complete in 2013/14. This will enable reductions in journey times of up to 30 minutes and improvements to frequency on the Derry line.

The investment will mean that Derry will have a first class rail service to Belfast and on through to Dublin.

It will also be a key transport corridor for the North West into Donegal and will be a substantial asset for the whole region.

The Department will seek to maximise the opportunities to apply for EU funding in support of eligible capital works on the Derry line.

A £12m track life extension works north of Ballymena is now complete.

INVESTMENT IN BUSES

The past few years have seen significant investment in buses. During 2003/4 to 2008/09, almost £127m was spent on the purchase of new buses and the upgrade of bus stations. The budget and ISNI 2 allocations provide some £35m over the next 2 years and a further £112m for bus over the following 7 years to 2018.

The new buses now provide a more modern, comfortable and reliable service and a real alternative to the car.

During the three-year period from 2007-10, we are investing over £172M on water and wastewater facilities in the north-west area.

Turning to a longer term global challenge, relevant to us all – sustainability. Water and sewerage services must be sustainable if we are to build for the future. This includes planning for development and growth, while preserving the environment for future generations.

Reducing energy consumption is one of the biggest challenges facing our water and sewerage industry.Our water and sewerage provider (NI Water) is currently the largest consumer of electricity in the North and clearly has a role to play in reducing carbon costs. Already, renewable energy is deployed to help meet energy needs where it is economically justified. However, we must do more.

We need to explore the opportunities for adopting a more sustainable, holistic approach to water and sewerage provision. This may be through the use of sustainable drainage systems, low carbon treatment plants or other catchment based solutions.

All this costs money and funding is a key issue which the Executive is currently considering. Whatever we agree, the services must be affordable if they are to be sustained.

CONCLUSION

I hope that you will appreciate the depth of my commitment to securing a vibrant, confident and modern North West Ireland. I look forward to benefiting from your experience and knowledge as we work together to unlock the potential of the North West.

The Executive and our Programme for Government is clearly focused on the economy, its development and growth now and in the time ahead. This is about;

· Investing in Enterprise and Innovation,

· Investing to Export

· Investing to attract Foreign Direct Investment

· Investing in Tourism, Sustainable Energy and Skills

Our priorities and energies in Government are focused on economic growth and delivering a progressive social reform agenda. Ultimately, it is about how we position ourselves collectively going forward in achieving a sustainable prosperous future for our citizens and communities.

I firmly believe that a real positive opportunity exists today which allows us to develop and harness a new ‘socio-economic partnership’ between Boston and North-West Ireland – a mutually beneficial relationship were civic society, our business sector, academic and political institutions can come together and create new opportunities and investments.

I want to again recognise the fact that we have a very significant collection of people present here today across all these spheres from both sides of the Atlantic.

I look forward to hearing from other contributors on how we may move forward and what thoughts people have to offer for consideration on this conversation of ‘Gateways to Tomorrow – Unlocking the potential’.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leor.

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