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Campaigners plan to pressure Dublin for Derry university

Lobby group to use election to press for cross-border university but Magee inquiry kept private

Campaigners for a university that would span the Irish border are planning to put pressure on the Irish government to support the scheme, as a committee at Stormont prepares to grill officials behind closed doors on Ulster University’s Belfast expansion, more than £100 million in the red.

Garbhan Downey, co-founder of the Derry University Group that wants to see a new university straddle the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, is standing in the upcoming Seanad Éireann elections in Ireland to “keep the issue on the national agenda” and “end the North West’s 60-year wait for an independent university”.

The Seanad Éireann is Ireland’s senate and its members have the power to pitch new Bills, or amend, reject or pass existing Bills. After a general election this month political parties are vying to form a coalition in Ireland’s upper house. Independent candidates won 12 per cent of the vote in that election.

Downey added that officials in Dublin are “ready to move towards establishing a new cross-border university”, despite the idea being left out of the New Decade, New Approach document that kickstarted Northern Ireland’s executive in January.

The group is worried that higher education provision in Derry will stall as plans to expand Ulster University’s Magee campus in Derry—which the Irish and UK government pledged to support in the Stormont relaunch deal—have been delayed. Ulster University has been asked to resubmit the business case for the scheme after Northern Ireland’s economy minister Diane Dodds warned there is “a significant amount of work to be done” before the expansion takes place.

The business case was submitted in 2016, before the university’s Belfast scheme went more than £100 million over budget and forced the university to ask for a £126 million loan from Northern Ireland’s government. The Northern Ireland government has said it is still considering whether to grant the loan.

On 26 February Stormont’s committee for the economy will question four members of the government’s Department for the Economy on the troubled scheme, but the public are barred from watching the session.

Research Professional News has asked Stormont to comment.