Northern Ireland

McGuinness says Derry cancer unit delay 'sectarian'

Altnagelvin Hospital
Image caption Funding is not available for plans for a new radiotherapy centre for Altnagelvin Hospital

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has described the decision to postpone the construction of a radiotherapy unit in Londonderry as "sectarian".

He said he could "guarantee" to reverse the move after the elections in May.

The DUP's Jim Wells, who chairs the assembly's health committee, said his party would reverse the move if it took the health portfolio.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said funding was insufficient.

Mr McGuinness said the delay, announced in the assembly on Wednesday, was "shameful, highly political and sectarian".

"This is not about money," he said.

"This is the best possible project you could tackle by dint of the fact that we have a very high level agreement between our Executive and the previous Irish government which I believe will be maintained."

He said he would ensure the decision did not stand.

"I would urge people not to panic," he said.

"If you can be sure about anything in life you can be sure that this radiotherapy centre will be built.

"I will ensure and guarantee that it is built."

The DUP MLA Jim Wells, said there was no case for postponement.

"The Altnagelvin radiotherapy unit was treated specially and differently from any other project.

"The finance minister allocated the £27m and ring-fenced it to health.

"The Fine Gael-Labour government is committed to giving the money to Altnagelvin.

"In addition, the Irish government have planned to fund a third of the revenue because there will be patients coming from Sligo, Donegal, and Leitrim to the new unit.

"That means that the capital cost is effectively free to the department and a substantial part of the revenue is free."

Earlier, the Irish Republic's Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, said his government was still committed to providing 19m euros for capital costs and also ongoing funds.

He said the unit was an "ideal solution" for the radiotherapy needs of people from across the north-west of Ireland.

'Not sectarian'

The Ulster Unionist Party have insisted that Mr McGimpsey's decision was taken on grounds of finance, not sectarianism.

"It's got nothing to do with sectarian politics," said David Harding, the UUP assembly candidate for East Londonderry.

"It's a shame Martin McGuinness drags us into sectarian politics."

He blamed the budget allocation of the finance minister for the delay, and said he was committed to getting the radiotherapy unit built, after the election.

"Hopefully we will have a finance minister who can control a budget, who is able to give money to the departments that need it."

He also maintained that the commitment of the Irish government to funding the unit had not been given until after Mr McGimpsey had been forced to make his own decision.

"He tried repeatedly to get a response from the southern government and got none.

"So he could not go ahead and announce it because a third of the business case was not going to be approved."

The SDLP member of the health committee, Tommy Gallagher, said the delay was "heartbreaking and annoying" for cancer patients.

He accused Michael McGimpsey of playing politics.

"He is trying to get in behind the DUP in the run-up to an election."

Tommy Gallagher also argued that a lack of progress on cross-border bodies was partly to blame for the move.

"I'm saying we should have had more north-south engagement over the past four years.

"Had we had that then it would not have been so easy for Mr McGimpsey to do what he has just done."

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