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Executive must have policies without political prejudice, warns head of business body

By John Mulgrew

The next Stormont Executive must outline a Programme for Government which is not "encumbered by political prejudice", the head of a business body has warned.

Stephen McCully, president of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was speaking in front of 900 people at the newly extended Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

And the guest of honour at the huge 'champions' dinner' last night - which is the largest in the Chamber's 233-year history - was Irish rugby legend Paul O'Connell.

The 36-year-old, who recently retired, captained Ireland to three Six Nations championship wins, including a Grand Slam.

But the focus of last night's event was what the next Northern Ireland Executive should focus on in terms of growing the business community and the economy here.

Mr McCully (right) said the Chamber wants representatives here not be held back by "political cautiousness".

"The Northern Ireland Chamber advocates a much more confident Programme for Government, one that favours strength of ambition in finding solutions and is not hindered by political cautiousness or prejudice," he said. "The Chamber members stand by, ready to assist, in any way they can to support a Programme for Government that helps grow the business sector, that puts jobs, pride and dignity into our communities. That provides diversity of opportunities for a highly educated and skilled workforce.

"That delivers timely world class infrastructure, and better more efficient public services."

Addressing the hundreds packed into the newly unveiled Waterfront Hall complex, on the eve of the Assembly elections, Mr McCully said: "We have actively attempted to change the narrative and to promote a more positive and ambitious message about Northern Ireland businesses and the prospect for increased growth and economic prosperity."

Last night's major business event was the first of its kind to be held in the new venue.

The £29.5m investment is expected to bring in £100m for the Northern Ireland economy in the next five years.

The city centre landmark has doubled in size to create an international venue capable of attracting major conferences for up to 5,000 delegates a day.

Around 30 large international and national conferences have already been secured for the next three years, including the BBC Good Food Show, the World Council of Credit Unions and the Royal College of Nursing.

Also speaking at the event, Peter Russell, general manager of BT Business, said: "The 'champions' dinner' is a wonderful celebration of business and sporting excellence and an opportunity for us all to reflect on the numerous successes we have shared."

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