There was nationalist fury yesterday after a Stormont minister said that the expansion of Magee College in Londonderry is off the table for the foreseeable future.
Speaking on the Nolan Show yesterday morning, Alliance minister Stephen Farry said that budget cuts to his department meant that the University of Ulster campus expansion was not now achievable as originally envisioned.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness responded in a terse statement that the comments were “outrageous and irresponsible”. He said: “Any decision on this issue is clearly controversial, has serious equality implications and will therefore need to come to the Executive where Sinn Fein will robustly challenge the DEL minister’s position.”
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan accused Dr Farry of “downright shabby politics” and warned him that there would be “wide resentment that a minister has lobbed the line ‘Magee expansion off the table indefinitely’ into the discussion on the budgetary fallout from the Treasury’s bullying fines on the block grant”.
The city’s SDLP mayor, Brenda Stevenson, expressed “deep concern” about the move: “The decision today by the minister to put the expansion of Magee on hold is a huge blow to the city and region. Every effort must be made to reverse that decision and put pressure on him and his officials to find savings elsewhere.”
In a statement last night, Mr Farry said: “Any further expansion of higher education would require significant funding and any such investment would involve recurrent expenditure.
“However under the current budget circumstances, this will simply not be possible for the foreseeable future.
“It is into this context that any business case would be submitted to my department as a basis for a future bid for additional student places for the University of Ulster to expand Magee. That cannot be considered at a time when cuts are being made. This is the reality that we are now in.
“It always remains open to the University of Ulster to reallocate their existing student numbers across their existing campuses, including moving student numbers to Magee.”
UUP MLA Robin Swann called on Mr Farry to apologise for the “unnecessary distress he has caused and admit that he doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally cancel the expansion plan to Magee College”.
Student leader Rebecca Hall, president of the NUS-USI, said: “I am extremely concerned and deeply annoyed at the minister’s comments.”
See Morning View, page 20