21 July 2005 Edition

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Challenging development inequality

BY ROBBIE SMYTH

Sinn Féin economy spokesperson Mitchel McLaughlin this week led a Sinn Féin delegation with Bairbre DeBrun MEP, to meet Investment Northern Ireland (INI) Chief Executive Leslie Morrison. McLaughlin called on the agency to stop making excuses and get on with the job of "supporting economic development in areas that are most in need".

McLaughlin called on INI to locate its headquarters in the Northwest as a practical example of its commitment to region, particularly as details in the recent INI report show huge imbalances in how the agency's money is spent. The largest amount of INI funding is spent in the Belfast region, with substantially more funds being pumped into South and East Belfast.

A council-by-council breakdown of INI funding shows that Belfast gets the lions share of INI support, receiving over 45% of all assistance in 2003-'04. And it is set for nearly 47% of all planned investment in the coming year. Within Belfast it is South and East Belfast that gets the majority of that support.

In comparison the seven border council areas (Armagh, Omagh, Newry & Mourne, Dungannon, Fermanagh, Strabane and Derry) will receive just over 20% of planned investment.

McLaughlin says these figures "provide proof that investment is not being directed to border areas despite well-documented evidence that these are severely disadvantaged. It also undermines the argument that an analysis of councils would demonstrate a fairer share out of INI resources.

According to McLaughlin:"INI claims that it monitors assistance provided within New Targeting Social Need (NTSN) areas using a council-level approach which designates NTSN areas as the six most income and employment-deprived council areas which currently are Strabane, Derry, Omagh, Moyle, Cookstown and Newry & Mourne. Yet the planned level of assistance for these areas is only a fraction of that for Belfast.

A comparison of these six council areas and South Belfast show that they received less financial assistance and will receive less planned investment combined than the wealthy parliamentary constituency of South Belfast. Moyle Council is bottom of the list for number of offers, actual assistance and planned investment.

A calculation of the financial assistance per head of population shows that the six council areas together received £5,752 per person living in those council areas compared to £27,054 or nearly five times this amount, for each person living in South Belfast.

The seven councils West of the Bann received £20 million less than Belfast in 2003-04 and the planned investment is £92 million less.

Speaking after the INI meeting, Sinn Féin's Dara O'Hagan told An Phoblacht that there were "no satisfactory answers coming from the INI executives". Next week the party are set to meet Employment Trade and Investment Minister Angela Smith and will raise this funding and economic development inequalities with her. "We will not let this issue rest," said O'Hagan.


An Phoblacht
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