Nationalist parties blamed for threat to Magee expansion

Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry

Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry

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Nationalist parties’ opposition to government welfare reform is ultimately jeopardising the expansion plans of a Londonderry university, the minister for employment and learning has said.

Last week, Dr Stephen Farry said the proposed expansion of the University of Ulster’s Magee campus was “off the table” due to NI Executive budget cuts.

The £78 million worth of cuts are only the beginning of years of financial pain if the welfare reform programme is not swiftly agreed, finance minister Simon Hamilton has warned.

Mr Hamilton said there would be many other penalties from the Treasury if the Northern Ireland benefits system remains unchanged.

Last Friday, Mr Farry told the Nolan radio show he had to “pass on a large degree of the cuts that have been imposed on my department” on to higher education.

Speaking yesterday, Dr Farry said he had met interested parties to explain that he was still prepared to “progress a business case” for the Magee campus expansion.

However, the minister said the blame for the current uncertainly lay with Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

He added: “It’s a failure largely of the two nationalist parties to face up to the reality and to take the difficult decisions.”

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said any rejection of the expansion “has serious equality implications” and that it would be “robustly challenged” by Sinn Fein when it came before the Executive in due course.