18 September 2003 Edition
Direct rule a disaster
Direct Rule is a disaster - we have part time Direct Rule Ministers with remits over multiple departmental responsibilities and have neither the time, even if they possessed the hunger, to bring forward major initiatives to better the lot of people here. Apart from attempting to use the absence of the Assembly to push Water Charges and other revenue raising measures for the Exchequer, no one can be in any doubt that the Direct Rule Ministers are merely going through the motions.
This is amply illustrated by the response I received from a letter I wrote to Economy Minister Ian Pearson following the Spring British/Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the subsequent Joint Declaration in which it was declared that "Strabane is an area which requires significant investment". My letter sought details from the Minister as to what practical measures would result from this declaration for Strabane.
Direct Rule Minister John Spellar responded on behalf of the NIO and his answer was disappointing but not surprising.
He regurgitated measures and developments that were old hat and his response contained absolutely nothing new. Therefore, as I went to meet with NIO Economy Minister Ian Pearson last Thursday to once again press the case for significant investment in West Tyrone, I was under no illusion as to the nature of the Direct Rule Administration with which I was dealing. I was initially treated to a reiteration of the points contained in John Spellar's letter. This included a completely inaccurate account of the supposed assistance Invest NI has given to the Textiles Industry. When I pointed out that Adria Ltd, the mainstay of the Strabane economy, employing in the region of 1,000 people, had not received as much as one cold penny in financial aid from INI in recent years and in fact that Invest NI was making a net profit from its previous 'share' investment in the company, the civil servants were scribbling like mad on their notepads. When a government department charged with economic regeneration doesn't know what its main funding agency is doing shows a frightening lack of joined-up thinking and exposes the complete absence of anything resembling an economic strategy.
I forcefully argued for Ian Pearson and his Department to now take a hands-on approach to the textiles issue and to prioritise several major job creation projects, presently on hold, in both Omagh and Strabane, which could easily be brought to fruition with a minimum of effort and financial investment.
Ian Pearson gave no definitive commitments on any of the issues I raised but assured me that he would mandate them to be followed up. As I have heard all of this before from Direct Rule Ministers and have waited in vain for a positive response, I will also be raising all these issues with Dublin government. As co-signatories of the Joint Declaration, which declared Strabane as an area requiring significant investment, I will be taking the Dublin government to task in regards to how it is going to give practical effect to its commitments in the Spring Declaration.
However, no matter what response is forthcoming from either government, the inescapable fact is that these most pressing of economic issues will remain in no-man's land while Direct Rule is allowed to continue.