All posts by Paul Mullin

Invest NI: “A complete failure”

Has Invest NI met its targets? Paul Mullin reports

Liam Gallagher from the Derry trades union council has called Invest Northern Ireland’s strategy for the North West a “complete failure.” It comes just a week after a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) revealed that Invest NI – the north’s economic development agency – spent less than a quarter of the department’s money in the North West in the last ten years.

Mr Gallagher went on to voice his concerns not just over the figures but how the money that has been given to the North West has been misused. He said: “We allowed a manufacturing base in the North West to simply disappear. Invest NI did nothing absolutely nothing in terms of investment to help maintain the textile industry or help it diversify new markets. We simply accepted that manufacturing was old hat, yesterday’s news and that the way forward was the financial services sector.”

He said that the money has not been spread wisely across the North West and has resulted in the North West being one of the worst affected by the recession. This is backed up by figures released from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) which stated that the claimant count in Northern Ireland was the second highest amongst the twelve UK regions. This is backed even further by a House of Commons study which looked at all 650 parliamentary constituencies and ranked them in terms of unemployment. The Foyle area came third in a league table of UK constituencies worst affected by unemployment.

Mr Gallagher echoed these sentiments: “The reality is that in a population of 107,000 you have an eligible work force of 40,000, of those 24,000 are listed as economically inactive and there are currently 8,600 on the live register. So that gives you an indication of the scale of the problem right now.”

He went onto add that there are less than 3,000 jobs left in the manufacturing industry in Derry, with about in the region of 2,500 financial services jobs, apart from that there is a large part time force working in the retail sector and what he calls a “disproportionate” number of people in public, health and education sectors.

Following the NIAO report many prominent figures in Derry spoke out against Invest NI, including Derry SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood who said: “The report shows proof of devolved government’s failure in terms of jobs in the North West.”

The NIAO report states that just 24% of Invest NI’s overall financial assistance came to the North West since 2002. Other notable figures in the report show that as little as 25.6% of total foreign direct investment (FDI) jobs were in the west of Northern Ireland.

Eastwood went onto say that the report shows Invest Ni’s “long term failure in promoting regional equality in terms of job creation.” He says that the executive leadership now have “to commit to radically change the performance of Invest NI.”

Liam Gallagher thinks that a major source of the problem is what Invest Ni are investing in. “There has been quite a lot of work put into ‘the one plan’ in the North West, were all of the stakeholders, unions, businesses and education sector come together and produced a good analysis of what is required in the North West in terms of high quality jobs. It seems to me that this is where Invest NI should be tying into in terms of research and development.”

The ‘One Plan’ is an ambitious guideline for the regeneration of Derry and was drafted following a huge consultation process across the city. The plan hopes to see an additional £500m in wages and profits in Derry’s economy.  The plan sets out the roles of the public, private and community and voluntary sectors in delivering 12,900 jobs needed to ensure the city is the economic hub of the North West over the next ten years.

The plan describes how the city will be transformed by fundamentally changing the way it does business, and being creative in how organisations and individuals resource and manage themselves.

Mr Gallagher also stressed the importance of getting a solid manufacturing base up and running in the North West again as he said: “You have to have a manufacturing base for your balance of trade, you need to be exporting and growing things. So we need to move away from the financial sector and the heavy reliance on the public sector and start finding markets and find something we can actually export.”

The One Plan is backed throughout the city and although it is seen as ambitious it is seen as achievable. Another scheme, which complements the One Plan, has been set in motion to help combat the economic downturn in the city also. A five point plan has been put in place to try and save Derry City Centre.

Central to the plan is to create a city centre enterprise zone to give independent retailers a helping hand. On the proviso that the executive grants the status, it would mean that businesses in Derry city centre could avail of rates holidays, faster planning decisions and capital allowances to promote new retail and business developments. The other four proposals include the creation of a comprehensive retail development strategy for the city centre; the adoption of a ‘town centre’ first planning policy when considering out of town retail applications; the launching of a shop independent campaign and to increase the amount of affordable parking facilities and public transport in the city centre.

There are more that 130 vacant shops in the city centre, 50 of which have been recent closures. This combined with applications for nine out of town superstores means concern for local business people. It adds weight to the claims made by Mr Gallagher and Colum Eastwood that Invest NI’s strategy in the North West has been a failure and it’s an argument that will continue to run between those in the North West and the decision makers in Stormont.

http://www.investni.com/

http://www.councillor.info/derry/ceastwood/0/Default.aspx

http://www.ictu.ie/about/affiliates/tradescouncils/

New Mental Health Support Group in Derry

 

Paul Mullins reports

A Derry City based charity, which helps those battling mental illness, has announced the creation of a new support group to help those dealing with the affliction.

Aware Defeat Depression has announced that the new support group will help those caring for people affected by depression or bipolar disorder. This includes sufferers, relatives and friends.

Allison Smyth from the Charity said that the aim of the groups is to “bring together people with similar problems in the hope that you can support and be supported by them and that you will learn more about your own illness and the best way how to cope with it.”

The support group offers advice and a listening ear to those living with mental illness. The group is led by trained facilitators, mostly from people who have suffered from depression themselves or someone close to them has.

Aware have also appealed to anyone who may be willing to volunteer to work with the charity to get in contact as they currently have a variety of positions available. The opportunities range from being a facilitator of a support group, to working for the helpline or general admin duties. The charity has said that if the position applied for is one of those offering a service then applicants will need to go meet the criteria, go through training and will require a police check. Though for fundraising and admin positions this is not required.

Aware has twenty support groups for people with depression and their families and carers across the whole of Northern Ireland. Aware have announced there will be two support groups in Derry. A spokesperson said: “The impact of depression can be enormous, surveys show that 40% of those who care for an afflicted loved one, are themselves sufficiently distressed and in need of help.”

The new support group will meet every Wednesday starting from 11th April at the Aware Defeat Depression Offices, 56 Strand Road, Derry. For more information and how to apply to volunteer with the charity log on to http://www.aware-ni.org.uk/

Other useful links for those suffering or caring for someone with depression.

http://www.samaritans.org/

http://www.mind.org.uk/

Album Review: Tyler, The Creator – Goblin

Odd Future’s figurehead Tyler, The Creator releases his sophomore album Goblin, the first from the collective to have a release on a major label. The most hyped release of the year doesn’t live up to expectations, with few quality tracks, the album eventually suffers from a lack of musical ideas and a running time which could do with having at least 20 minutes shaved off it.

‘Radicals’ is one of the standout tracks on the album. It takes the vitriol up a notch; menacing beats are laced with a genuine anger in Tyler’s voice as he veers into an almost militant style of hip hop. “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school, I’m fucking radical” whilst the intensity subsides as a more enlightened Tyler tells us “im not saying to just go out and do stupid shit, commit crimes. What im trying to tell you is do what the fuck you want, stand for what the fuck you believe in, and don’t let anybody tell you you cant be what you want. I’m a fucking unicorn.”

The visceral intensity continues on tracks like ‘Translyvania’ and ‘Nightmare’ which sound exactly as the titles suggests. The tracks have slick grooves attached while Hip Hop juggernaut and track of the year contender ‘Yonkers’ maintains this vibe. While ‘Tron Cat’ sees him spouting the darkest raps on the album. A track so lyrically depraved that even his most ardent supporters will find it hard to stomach. “These tracks work almost on intensity alone, but there isn’t much else happening. He shows it doesn’t all have to be extremely dark on tracks like ‘Her’ where the bravado takes a back seat. But the track fails to land musically. ‘She’ sees Tyler join forces with Frank Ocean in a slow and forgettable RNB affair.

The album’s title track refers to everything to that point in Tyler’s life. The media pressure, the broken home. It’s Tyler spouting a stream of consciousness while a contrasting voice allays his fears. It happens again on album closer ‘Golden’ and while they are pretty decent tracks you can’t help but feel both are drawn out.

‘Sandwitches’ sees Hodgy Beats lend a hand in one of the album’s better moments, which acts almost as OFWGKTA’s call to arms. ‘Window’ sees a whole host of OFWGKTA member’s guest in a tune which serves no other purpose than as a platform to introduce some of his crew. ‘Fish’ and ‘Analog’ are another two tracks which have discernable grooves, while tracks like ‘Bitch Suck Dick’ are nothing more than parody.
It’s not an album for the easily offended, the groups’ defenders claim they are satirising the ugly parts associated with hip hop. Dependent entirely on how you want to perceive it, this could very well be a bit much for some people. Regardless of how you perceive it, eighty minutes is a bit much to listen to the misanthropic ranting and ravings of anyone, regardless of how skilled they may be in delivering it.

Tyler The Creator – Yonkers
Tyler, The Creator – Sandwitches (Live on Jimmy Fallon)

Odd Future Interview

By Paul Mullin

Fracking concern for Ballycastle councillor

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By Paul Mullin

A Ballycastle councillor has warned of the damage a controversial new gas extraction process could cause to Northern Ireland.

The process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it’s more commonly known, takes place by drilling rocks in order to get natural gas.

Shale rock, which is common all over the North West of Ireland, makes it an attractive opportunity for gas companies. The reserves of natural gas in counties Leitrim, Sligo, Cavan, Donegal and Fermanagh could be worth £80 billion at current prices.

The controversy of fracking comes in the methods used in order to get the gas. A combination of water, chemicals and sand, with the use of explosives, is forced into the natural fractures in the rock, which allows the fractures to widen further. The water and chemicals are pumped out, but the sand stays behind, propping the fracture apart which allows the gas to be extracted.

This process was the subject of an Oscar nominated documentary called “Gaslands” which showed the hazards caused by fracking. The documentary followed the fracking process in Pennsylvania, USA and its effect on the residents in the areas were drilling had taken place. It found that chemicals had found their way into the drinking water and in several instances it showed that a lit match next to a running tap turned it into a ball of flames.

The film contained interviews with residents and scientific experts which warned of the health risks and wider environmental impact.

Councillor Donal Cunninham from the Moyle District Council is one such person who opposes fracking in NI as it currently operates. He said: “The process has not achieved or proven itself safe, and it also increases greenhouse emissions which we should be looking to reduce.” The councillor plans on public showings of ‘Gaslands’ in both Ballycastle and Rathlin and urges the public to come along and see the potential dangers for themselves.

Two companies –Tamboran Resources and the Lough Allen Natural Gas company – have been granted onshore gas exploration licences in the North West. Although it is in the infancy stage proper commercial drilling could happen within four years.

Richard Moorman, the CEO of Tamboran, has moved to emphasise how safe fracking now is and the benefits it will have for NI. He said: “Tamboran is commited to brining forward a natural gas project in Northern Ireland that has the potential to create significant meaningful local employment, tax revenues and local commercial spending.”

He went onto add how important the process is for NI’s own gas needs.  As it stands NI imports nearly 90% of its natural gas needs and by exploring fracking Moorman says it will: “Significantly reduce Northern Ireland’s vulnerability to potential future supply shortages.”

The impact of fracking goes beyond health and environmental issues and has raised concern about its impact on tourism in the North West of Ireland. Tourism is worth £120 million to the area and one of the major tourist attractions is the Shannon Erne, which is the longest navigable waterway in Ireland, it is feared that fracking could lead to water contamination, which could have a knock on affect on the Erne as a tourist attraction.

The two counties have 4,000 farm holdings between them and if fracking chemicals were to get into the water and food chain it could be devastating for the area. Residents have argued that if the fracking does go ahead it will affect the rural landscape with drilling pads of 12 acres every two square kms being deployed in the choosen fracking areas.

When asked about this Moorman stressed how paramount the issue of health, safety and conservation was to the company. He said: “It is essential that our operations are conducted without a single incident of water or air contamination and with respect for all landowners and residents by absolutely minimising surface impacts as well as traffic and noise levels.”

He went onto say: “All of our operations will be conducted to the highest standards of natural gas extraction, as  demonstrated by our commitment to completely eliminate chemicals from the hydraulic fracturing process, as well as to conduct two month baseline surveys of groundwater quality, air quality, noise levels, and seismic activity before proceeding to drill any well.”

Concillor Cunningham remains unconvinced though and points to how the process is banned in France, and parts of Canada, Australia and even in the US (it is banned in New York state despite heavy lobbying from the gas industry)

Cunningham added: “Most of the industry are now claiming that they will eliminate chemicals from the fracking process. Chemicals made up 1% of the fluid. Two factors are responsible for the contamination of groundwater – fracking fluid and methane. So the industry is only addressing one of our concerns.”

He went onto add that the government and assembly should focus on developing renewable energy which he says will create new green businesses and jobs.