Co-Head of Government Michelle O’Neill spent the day in Derry today (Wednesday) with her entire ministerial team for a series of meetings with businesses, community groups and local council.
She was in town to hear about the challenges and opportunities that exist in Derry.
Speaking at the Guildhall, Michelle said: âWe are delighted to be here in Derry this afternoon with our entire ministerial team and our two local MPs and some of our advisers. Sinn FÃ©in has just gone through a period of significant change in Derry and we have two new MPs in Ciara and Padraig who have really taken the lead and are standing up for the needs of the people of the city. They invited our entire ministerial team to come here today to talk to people, so we meet everyone from a group of young people to council to local businesses. We want to hear about the challenges but also the opportunities and what we can do as executive ministers to support growth here in the city.
âI’m not sure if this is getting enough attention, but over the past five years things have changed dramatically in the city. Over 5,000 jobs have been created here in the city and that is probably a conservative estimate. We have seen progress in medical school, 70 places have opened up in the postgraduate program, we have seen a number of courses transferred to Magee and then obviously there is the increase in the number. We are very committed to this, but besides that there are some really exciting plans for strategic growth. When you look at community development over the past year, Covid Support Grants have reached all communities, which is really important. But what I heard this morning is enthusiasm for the opportunities that present themselves in terms of job creation, in terms of economic development and we are going to play our part. We are here in Derry to tell the people of Derry that we are here, that we are listening and that we are here to offer people down to the grassroots level. Large economic development projects, inclusive growth, term funds and program of urban agreements, but this must filter through the community. The people of Creggan or Bogside must feel that there is change and opportunity for them, so we are very committed to all of this.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey also announced today that there will be 100,000 homes built over the next 15 years in an effort to tackle the housing crisis.
She said: âToday we just announced our housing supply strategy and it is my plan to see over 100,000 homes built in the next 5 years. This strategy is to ensure that we have both public and private land put forward for the housing development program. We will make sure that the planning system and the infrastructure system responds to that and that our construction and our skills are there so that we can see this house building happening in the areas where people have it the most. need and that we deliver the kind of housing people deserve. So this is a radical plan, it is coming out today and there is going to be a nine week consultation process. I encourage all people, especially those who are waiting for accommodation and find themselves homeless, to engage in this process. I want to see these homes delivered over the next 15 years and will make sure all the infrastructure and resources are in place so that we can do that with over a third of these homes also being social and affordable housing.
Michelle O’Neill assures the public that the government has no plans to close schools or require young schoolchildren to wear masks at school, as has happened in the republic. She explained that while there have been confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the north, there are currently no plans to tighten the restrictions.
She said: âI think it was almost inevitable, we always knew it was only a matter of time before we had our first case of the Omicron variant. The advice remains the same today, that is to say redouble your efforts, try to get back to basics and get the booster shot. We will meet again in the coming days to discuss the recent announcement of confirmed cases. But the advice we have today is for the public to be very aware that this is now circulating in our society. We have had three confirmed cases but there is no doubt that there will be more in the days to come so stay alert. If we are to consider further action this is what we have to do, but as of today the chief medical officer advice is that what we are doing is enough, but we have to ask the public to be vigilant and get the vaccine if you have not already obtained it.
What future for Sinn FÃ©in? âIrish unity,â Michelle says. âThis is why we exist and we are determined to lead the change right now from Cork to Derry. The part is on the ground to help people and we want to make changes. After the partition of the country, it led to so much negativity, it disadvantaged everyone who lives on this island and Sinn FÃ©in wants to lead the change. We want to stand up for workers and families. We want good jobs for people, we want to support those who are most vulnerable in our society, we want good health service, access to health services when you need them. We want to see a change in all of these things.