War of words over Portrush regeneration

SDLP MLA for Foyle Mark H Durkan (left) and Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle Raymond McCartney.
SDLP MLA for Foyle Mark H Durkan (left) and Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle Raymond McCartney.

A war of words has broken out between Sinn Fein and the SDLP over the revelation that a ministerial sub-group for Portrush has endorsed plans for £27m of regeneration money to be invested in Portrush.

The ministerial sub-group is made up of ministers from the Department of the Environment (DOE), Department of Enterprise, trade and Investment (DETI), Department for Regional Development (DRD) and the Department for Social Development (DSD).

The DOE Minister is SDLP MLA for Foyle, Mark H. Durkan. It is understood that Mr. Durkan endorsed the plan to spend £27m on the regeneration of Portrush in preparation for the Open Championship, which could be held at Royal Portrush Golf Club as early as 2019.

Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle, Raymond McCartney, said he was “surprised” when he heard about the sum of money to be spent on the Portrush area and claimed that Mr. Durkan was being hypocritical.

“My reaction to the news that a ministerial sub-group for Portrush has endorsed £27m of public money to be spent on the re-generation of the area is one of surprise. Sinn Fein is not opposed to investment and regeneration of areas throughout the North but it cannot be secretive, it cannot happen behind closed doors.

“I am not aware of this ministerial sub-group and to be honest, for something of this nature to be happening without a discussion is not acceptable.

“When it comes to public spending the process has to be open and transparent. The ministerial sub-group set-up for the North West has been nothing but open and transparent since it was set-up so you can understand why Sinn Fein was surprised when he discovered this ministerial sub-group for Portrush.”

Mr. McCartney added: “Also, a party can’t throw their hands up in the air over the decision to endorse an enterprise zone for Coleraine one day and then carry out the very thing they were critical of the next with the endorsement of regeneration for Portrush.”

When contacted by the ‘Journal’, Mr. Durkan refuted Mr. McCartney’s allegations and said the ministerial sub-group was approved by the Executive before he became DOE Minister.

The Portrush sub-group predates my time as DOE Minister; I believe it originated around the time that Portrush hosted the Irish Open golf tournament, an event which Martin McGuinness was keen to get credit and publicity for. All parties are aware of the group- it is Executive-approved.

“If Mr McCartney doesn’t know about it he should ask his colleagues. The sub-group has bid to the Executive for resources for the major improvements required in advance of hosting the world renowned major, Open Championship, as soon as 2019. It will be for the Executive to approve or refuse this bid and the process is transparent.

“In contrast, last year when Coleraine received Enterprise Zone status the issue was not brought to Executive for discussion or decision. When I did raise the subject, the Deputy First Minister denied any knowledge of it. Later, as ‘Journal’ readers will recall, a letter appeared that he had signed actually asking the Chancellor George Osborne to designate Coleraine as an Enterprise Zone. We are still waiting for him to take similarly positive action for Derry.”