'Daily signs' of economic recovery
There are now almost daily signs that Northern Ireland is on the road to economic recovery, Stormont's Finance minister has insisted.
Simon Hamilton said increasing business activity, falling unemployment, rising house sales and even a surge in new car registrations all indicated the worst of the recession was over.
During Assembly question time, Mr Hamilton said he was concerned at the level of negative equity among householders - more than 40% of mortgages sold since 2005 - but expressed hope that further recovery in the housing market would resolve that problem for many mortgage holders.
"I think our economy is improving," he told MLAs.
"I think there are now almost daily signs, Mr Deputy Speaker, that our economy is moving in the right direction. We are well on the road to economic recovery after five or six very difficult years in Northern Ireland."
Mr Hamilton's remarks come after the publication of figures by Ulster Bank indicating that business activity in the private sector has increased for nine months in succession.
"I think it is encouraging to see new business starting to develop, employment go up, exports go up and some firms even reporting backlogs of work within their businesses," he said.
"So I think all in all, and when you couple that with our official statistics in respect of unemployment (and) economic growth last year of 1.2% between quarter three of last year and quarter three of the year before, housing market activity starting to accelerate and new car registrations in Northern Ireland starting to rise by 20% last year, I think all in all our economy is moving slowly but surely in the right direction, albeit with the odd bump on the road to recovery."
Mr Hamilton said while levels of house sales were now at a six year high, the issue of negative equity remained.
"I do accept it is a problem," he said.
"It is a problem here, as it is a problem elsewhere."
But the minister added: "Hopefully a rising property market, a more buoyant confident property market, will resolve many of those negative equity problems here in Northern Ireland."