As Londonderry prepares to become United Kingdom City of Culture in 2013, the city faces a major challenge and that is to become truly a shared city.
Just a third of the 35,000 students attending university in Northern Ireland are Protestant and two thirds are Roman Catholic, but in the case of the Magee campus of the University of Ulster in Londonderry, less than a fifth of the students are Protestant. The figure has just been released by DEL minister Stephen Farry in response to a question tabled by Gregory Campbell MP MLA.
This situation is intolerable and the University of Ulster certainly has questions to answer about how the situation has arisen and what they propose to do to create a shared campus. Those questions are particularly important at a time when the university is seeking to expand the Magee campus.
This is a symptom of a deeper problem in the Maiden City but it is certainly not the only symptom. The only remaining unionist presence on the city side of the Foyle is the Fountain. It is a very small community but they are the only unionists remaining on that side of the river. Otherwise the city is divided between a totally nationalist city side and a mixed Waterside.
Addressing the imbalance in the university campus, which is clearly a cold house for Protestants, and rebuilding and regenerating the Fountain should be significant elements in the preparation for 2013. I look forward to hearing the commitment of the university and the council to tackle these issues and I look forward to seeing their action plans. Otherwise what credibility can there be for the city's forthcoming status as the United Kingdom City of Culture in 2013.
Time is pressing on and 2013 is drawing near. The time is short and both university and city council must step up to the mark.