Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland firms need stable platform to flourish so politicians must return to work

In a new series, every day this week Northern Ireland business leaders speak out on the importance of devolved government to our economy

By Angela McGowan

If Belgium managed to function without an elected government for 589 days, why is business in Northern Ireland so insistent that the Executive needs to get back-up-and-running as soon as possible?

The fall of the Stormont government in January, and the subsequent collapse of talks aimed at restoring it, has been a source of frustration for the business community in Northern Ireland. Most businesses would agree that restoring power-sharing institutions has been a top priority since the start of the year.

Over the last two decades, Northern Ireland's prosperity and economic improvement has been built on a foundation of peace and political stability.

For business, having a fully functioning Executive is about more than just good governance, it's about creating the kind of stable platform needed to help businesses flourish, attract investment and represent Northern Ireland's interests in national and international discussions.

Take Brexit, for example. As the only part of the UK with a land border to the European Union, Northern Ireland is uniquely affected by the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

While the Scottish and Welsh Governments look to communicate their priorities directly to the UK negotiating team, there is a sense that without a functioning Executive, Northern Ireland's political representation on this issue is absent. Business groups and civil society have stepped in to fill the gap, but a unified Northern Ireland political voice, one that represents the views of all citizens and all businesses, would have a far bigger impact and could potentially shape our economic path and our living standards for years to come.

One of the things that will concern companies about the failure to restore power-sharing institutions, is the potential loss of ambition for Northern Ireland as a place to do business. It was only in January that we were talking about a draft industrial strategy that aimed to make Northern Ireland one of the top three most competitive small advanced economies in the world by 2030. With a UK government preoccupied by Brexit and no Executive to take this forward, we can't allow for ambitious projects like this to be side-lined. The same applies to our infrastructure, energy and our education system.

The business community recognises the concerns of political leaders from all parties; but in the business world we also recognise that success can only be achieved with flexibility and compromise. We understand that there are key areas of difference, from detailed policy asks to issues which are more cultural in nature.

These are issues we contend with every day in offices, lecture halls and playing fields across the region.

Northern Ireland is at its best when we cooperate and the evidence for that is clear when we look back over the last 20 years. Our devolved government had much success. It delivered peace on our streets, attracted inward investment and international tourists and supported local businesses to be global players.

In Northern Ireland, we have hosted international sporting and music events and provided the setting for award winning television dramas.

We reinvented ourselves, we showed the world that we can compromise and live together in a civilised and progressive fashion that provides a hopeful future for our children.

None of this would have been possible without the Good Friday Agreement and the devolved government.

There is no doubt that mistakes have been made, we are all human after all; but we should never lose sight of the fact that the Executive has delivered for Northern Ireland - our progress has been amazing!

From Brexit to the DUP's partnership with the Conservatives at Westminster, make no mistake, the world is watching Northern Ireland closely. Business would much rather that we are being observed for our economic progress and our ability to create peace and a shared future.

The Good Friday Agreement set the mould; it's up to all of us to follow the right path and find a solution that works for all. We must compromise, we must show mutual respect - we must bend with the wind or else we break!

Angela McGowan, Regional Director, CBI Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph

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