This week in the North West, Derry led the way on being a progressive and inclusive city with the installation of our new Lord Mayor for Derry City and Strabane, Councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr. Mayor Seenoi-Barr has made history in becoming Northern Ireland’s first ever black mayor, and only the third on the island of Ireland. Arriving in Derry14 years ago as a refugee from Kenya, Lilian came here in search of a better life and is now the first citizen of the second city. This acts as a powerful testament to the abundant opportunities for people in the North West and Northern Ireland.

We at the Derry Chamber offer a warm welcome to our new Lord Mayor and look forward to working with her over the year to come.

Mayor Seenoi-Barr

As we come towards the summer recess of our resurrected political institutions, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the goings on at Stormont that have concerned the North West since the return of the Assembly and Executive in February.

First among the highlights was the unveiling of new Minister for the Economy Conor Murphy MLA’s four priorities for economic development, one of which was a commitment to regional balance, an issue that Chamber has long campaigned on. This commitment has been borne out through the Minister’s subsequent consistent engagement with representatives in the North West, not least the Chamber. Having hosted the Minister in one of his first engagements since taking office, Chamber has since hosted the Minister along with his party leader Mary Lou McDonald TD, and had the honour of the Minister being the keynote speaker at this year’s President’s Annual Lunch.

Conor Murphy MLA and Greg McCann

The coming transformation of Derry city and the North West has also progressed through the institutions. The Department for the Economy has set up a taskforce to ensure that the target of 10,000 students at Ulster University’s Magee campus is achieved; the taskforce was first convened in April. We have also seen officials from the Department briefing the Committee for the Economy on the progress of the City and Growth Deals in May.

Under question from local MLAs Pádraig Delargy, Gary Middleton and Sinéad McLaughlin, officials stated that the City Deals “will only be delivered if we get our alignment right” and that there is a “need to be working through Invest NI, the Department, our colleges and universities, to support business”. We at Chamber would echo this point and welcome the repeated commitment to working with Ulster University and North West Regional College to deliver the workforce of the future to suit the North West’s needs. Commitments to constantly keeping he cost of our City Deal under review and news of the progression of the CADRIC and NWRC campus projects were also very welcome.

Mary Lou McDonald’s visit to Chamber offices

Finally, May also brought with it the welcome news from Minister for Infrastructure John O’Dowd MLA that rail connectivity to City of Derry Airport will form part of the All-Island Rail Review, which he hopes to publish this month. The draft review proposed a number of transformational rail developments that could be started between 2030 and 2040 and finished by 2050.

A cross-border spur between Derry and Letterkenny, new stations between Derry and Coleraine – including a spur to Limavady – and the connection to City of Derry Airport have all been mooted as possibilities.

In February, the Minister also told the Assembly that a feasibility study separate from the review was being progressed to study the introduction of a half-hourly service between Derry and Belfast and the possibility of additional rail halts on the Coleraine to Derry line, including at the airport.

The return of the Assembly and Executive has brought with it some optimism that North West will finally be enable to deliver upon its huge potential, with new and improve connectivity links key to this. At the Chamber, we are looking forward to seeing these plans become actions and will continue to give voice to our members on the ground to ensure that North West businesses are represented in these plans.