Rock singer goes down a storm at directors' dinner
In one of the most unlikely tie-ups in modern times, the lead singer of heavy metal group Iron Maiden addressed a room full of top Northern Ireland business people last night.
Bruce Dickinson – who sang hits such as 'Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter' and 'The Number of the Beast' for the multi-million selling band – was in the Europa Hotel in Belfast as guest speaker at the Institute of Directors' (IOD) Annual Dinner, not for his rock credentials but as an entrepreneur and businessman.
The singer is said to have a passion for aviation, and for business. He is a qualified commercial pilot and head of Cardiff Aviation, an aircraft maintenance company he set up in May last year.
The announcement that Mr Dickinson would be speaking at the event had been greeted with surprise but he certainly managed to pull a large crowd to the event and proved himself a worthy business speaker.
With the rock star grabbing attention of some of the most powerful business people in Northern Ireland, the IOD was able to deliver a call to the Executive to "get serious about backing business".
The Iron Maiden frontman's warm-up act Mervyn McCall, the current chairman of the IOD, said Stormont ministers should establish a £250m fund from which Northern Ireland companies could borrow money to fund their businesses.
"A fund of this size would demonstrate the Government is resolute in encouraging local companies," he said, adding that it would also attract co-financing support from the European Investment Bank.
"The money needs to cover all aspects of our economy – high-tech start ups, budding entrepreneurs, first time exporters and established businesses requiring funding for growth and working capital," Mr McCall said.
"I don't believe it's possible for the banks to begin lending again on the scale required anytime soon and we can't wait for the next initiative from No 11.
"To date, none of George Osborne's programmes have had any effect on businesses in Northern Ireland. We need a local solution."
That solution, he said, needs to go above those currently be used.
"The Department of Finance and Personnel, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Invest NI have implemented some good initiatives which are helping growth but they are just not enough," he said. "Northern Ireland suffers because of its lack of competitiveness.
"In areas like Newry or Derry, the Republic may only be a few miles away but it is an impossible gap as far as taxes are concerned."
And Mr McCall reiterated how important planning is to the economy here.
"We must also have the economic benefit at the heart of planning decisions, just as it should be at the heart of all decisions by the Executive," he added.