Belfast Telegraph

Simon Hamilton: Parties need to work together on finalising an industrial strategy

By Simon Hamilton, DUP Strangford MLA

I appreciate Conor Murphy's article in last week's Business Telegraph on the draft industrial strategy - even if it centred mostly on criticising me - as at least a rare but welcome contribution from Sinn Fein on an issue that matters to the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland, namely the economy.

Whilst issues of language, culture and identity are incredibly important I hope that this piece by Mr Murphy heralds a much needed shift in emphasis by Sinn Fein towards those matters that effect the day to day lives of everyone in NI.

The draft industrial strategy was published in the dying days of devolution. Its introduction was welcomed by a number of organisations ranging from business organisations to trade unions. Indeed, I can recall a meeting with Conor who was then chair of the assembly's economy committee where he registered none of the concerns about the strategy that he has now so publicly criticised.

I was though baffled by Sinn Fein's seeming willingness to dismiss the economic achievements of the last Executive. I remain proud of the fact that our policies have helped to produce the lowest unemployment levels in our history, an all-time high in research and development investment and record numbers of overseas visitors.

There was a time when Sinn Fein would have happily shared in those achievements as the joint success of the DUP/Sinn Fein-led Executive. There was a time when Martin McGuinness travelled around the world with Dr Paisley, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster bringing record levels of inward investment to these shores. It's a shame that Sinn Fein are turning their back on that positive part of Martin McGuinness' legacy.

I wouldn't arrogantly suggest for a second that the draft industrial strategy was the perfect document. It was, after all, a draft. But it was ambitious.

It was our ambition to pave the path towards a regional economy that is, yes, bigger, but also more productive, more high tech and more knowledge-based.

It proposed to do that by focusing much of our energy on those sectors of our economy, like advanced manufacturing and engineering, materials handling and life and health sciences where we are already world-leading, and on those sectors where we possess the potential to be global leaders like cyber security.

And it proposed, in part, to also achieve that aim by building sectors and industries that are synced with where our universities have international capability in terms of research and by concentrating much more on trade, especially with fast growing markets around the world.

All of this was geared towards achieving economic milestones such as creating 50,000 new jobs, doubling the amount spent by tourists from outside Northern Ireland and increasing annual R&D spend to £1.5bn.

Ambitious targets certainly even if not, to use Mr Murphy's own word "radical" enough for Sinn Fein.

Although many will shudder at what "radical" policies Sinn Fein would instigate when they recall one of their MLAs who is now an MP once seriously suggested the very radical policy that Sinn Fein would wipe out everyone's credit card debt.

I note with great interest that Mr Murphy says that "when the Executive is restored" Sinn Fein will seek to improve the industrial strategy.

If Sinn Fein are now, at long last, beginning to rightly prioritise issues like the economy and jobs over language then let's get the Executive back up and running immediately.

The DUP will join Sinn Fein in power sharing and begin taking those big decisions including finalising an ambitious industrial strategy that will improve lives and move Northern Ireland forward.

Belfast Telegraph

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