Thank-you for the opportunity to be here today. It is great to see the CBI hosting this event in Derry and you’re all very welcome to our wonderful city.
I believe we largely share the same goals: Growing the economy, creating employment. Ensuring our young people have the skills they require and which the marketplace needs.
But events like this are important if we are to achieve those goals. Policy-makers need to listen to, and learn from, those of you who are at the coal face of the economy.
And when we do that, when we all work together, things get done. I believe the record of the Executive demonstrates that – notwithstanding the difficulties which hindered progress for so long but are hopefully now behind us as a result of the Fresh Agreement.
Yes, we can all get frustrated by the pace of change or distracted by the negativity which seems to be the stock in trade of many within the media.
But every now and then it’s worth stopping and reminding ourselves how much has been delivered in terms of economic regeneration.
Even in the face of a global economic collapse, the Executive has succeeded in growing the economy since 2011.
Over 40,000 new jobs have been created over the last five years, with almost 10,000 in the last year alone. More than 1300 jobs have been created in Derry in just the last 24 months.
I have every confidence that we will continue to attract investment and new jobs and the power to set our own rate of corporation tax from April 2018 will be another weapon in our armoury when it comes to securing foreign direct investment.
FDI is an area where we continue to punch well above our weight. Since 2006, Almost £27,000 new jobs have been promoted through inward investment and £3.25billion in total planned investment secured.
It is a remarkable record given the global economic climate and one that I am determined to build on. In fact, I have been in discussions with the US State Department and I am very confident that we will see further high-level US trade missions in this city and Belfast in the very near future.
But if we are to maximise our potential, inward investment must be complemented by investment from the Executive itself.
That is why we continue to spend heavily on key capital projects – over £7 billion in the last five years.
That will continue over the next five years with the Executive investing in key flagship projects including £229 million on the A5 and £258 million on the A6 – projects which have long been priorities in this part of the world. And of course which the CBI highlighted in your own business manifesto.
Earlier today I visited the fantastic new radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital – a £70 million investment which will bring state of the art care to the north west.
Investing in health is a priority for us all and that is why there are now 930 more nurses working in our health system than there were in 2011, 460 more allied health professionals and 240 more medical and dental consultants.
All of that brings a benefit to the economy as well as to the patient.
As an Executive, we are also acutely conscious of the need to invest in the skills agenda, particularly early indications from the University of Ulster skills barometer highlight the economic need for people with intermediate and graduate level skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) related subjects.
It is for that reason that we are focusing on raising skills through the apprenticeship and youth training strategies, the promotion of STEM, widening access to higher education and achieving excellence in further education.
And here in this city, the expansion of Magee University is obviously key to that agenda. We already have probably the finest schools estate anywhere in the North. The North West regional college recently benefited from an £18 million refurbishment and while there have been modest increases in student numbers at Magee, and the confirmation of the new Teaching Block, it still remains very much the missing piece of the education jigsaw.
But Magee expansion will be an economic gamechanger for this city and region. That is why we are all so determined to get it done. It is one of those rare issues that we can all unite behind – across all sectors and communities – and I have no doubt that the next mandate will see a significant step change with regard to this issue.
It is projects like Magee and the decision by Sinn Féin Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill to move her entire department from Belfast to County Derry which can change the dynamic with regard to redressing historical inequalities and balancing our economy.
And a balanced, thriving economy benefits us all. It doesn’t have to become a Belfast v Derry, or a Belfast v Ballymena issue.
That is why I am pleased that the next meeting of the Executive will take place in Fermanagh and shortly therafter, here in Derry.
Symbolically that’s important. But more important still is the commitment that both Arlene and I share to redress the imbalances which still exist in our economy.
I think we all acknowledge there is still much work to do but neither should we forget how far we have come.
And this city is a case in point. Twenty years ago, Derry was a very different and much darker place. You only have to look around to see how much it has been transformed since then. Things like the Peace Bridge, Ebrington, the City of Culture have changed the physical and emotional landscape of Derry for the better.
So just imagine how it will look in another 20 years time?
With strong political, civic and business leadership, the potential here is unlimited.
That is largely why have made the decision to seek the nomination to stand in the Foyle constituency in the next Assembly election.
It is a strategic decision which is aimed at delivering on a key Sinn Fein priority of redressing regional inequalities.
I firmly believe that I can hasten the pace of change by adding to the fine representation already provided by my party colleagues and Foyle MLA’s Maeve McLaughlin and Raymond McCartney.
It is about making a strong team stronger in order to consolidate and hasten the positive transformation of this city and region.
I want to be part of a stronger team for Foyle which is part of a stronger Sinn Fein team at the Assembly working in partnership with a stronger Sinn Fein team in the Dail to revitalise the economy and build a fairer, more prosperous society for all citizens on this island. Ends/Críoch