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Northern Ireland business world 'can't afford' cost of talks failure

Need for leadership 'stronger than ever'

By Margaret Canning

Uncertainty looms for the Northern Ireland economy as it faces up to the triggering of Article 50 by Prime Minister Theresa May and the failure of parties so far to form an Executive.

As Mrs May sends the letter to begin divorce proceedings from the EU, businesspeople urged Northern Ireland's parties to resolve the problems within their control.

In the absence of agreement, responsibility for Stormont's finances passes to David Sterling, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance, tomorrow.

Roger Pollen, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Business in Northern Ireland, said it was "deeply disappointed that after significant electoral engagement it has not been possible for the parties to reach agreement".

He urged the parties to intensify their efforts, "as Northern Ireland's businesses cannot afford weeks and months clouded by uncertainty".

CBI NI regional director Angela McGowan said: "Against the backdrop of Article 50 being triggered, there has seldom been a more important time to have a strong, well-functioning Executive to represent the people of Northern Ireland and our economy.

"Political stability and economic prosperity go hand in hand. Issues such as foreign direct investment and corporation tax will be heavily influenced by a devolved government.

"Furthermore, we desperately need local political representatives to speak on our behalf if we are to ensure that UK and EU negotiators have a proper understanding of Northern Ireland's unique circumstances around energy markets, supply chains, tourism and the border."

Property developer Gary McCausland said Brexit was now "a fact". "In the meantime we have to get on with ensuring that Northern Ireland is in the best possible position to deal with the consequences, good or bad. It is now essential... that the politicians put their differences aside and form a strong government."

Dermot O'Leary of Irish stockbrokers Goodbody said the anticipated triggering of Article 50 marked the end of nine months of "shadow boxing".

And Feargal McCormack, managing director of all-Ireland accountancy firm PKF-FPM, which is based in Newry, said firms were already adapting to Brexit.

"Where a firm purchases all its supplies from one market rather than the other, it's started to look elsewhere. And where it has just one location, it's now looking for flexibility, whether that's an NI firm looking for a location in the Republic, or vice versa."

While he said he regretted that parties had not reached agreement, he added: "We mustn't forget how far they have come. And while we may have tried the patience of the UK and Irish governments, the US and Europe, we now need further input from them."

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