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Power boss brands exit 'foolish' as Wrightbus chief will vote to leave

By Margaret Canning and John Mulgrew

The chief of a major Northern Ireland energy company who wants to bring her electricity business to the Republic has said it would be "foolish" for the UK to leave the EU.

Eleanor McEvoy, from Budget Energy, spoke as Wrightbus chairman William Wright - one of the province's best-known business figures - revealed he was "completely in favour" of leaving the EU.

However, Ms McEvoy, whose company is based in Londonderry, said: "We are better at the table than outside looking in. It's foolish, putting itself outside. The world has got too small to go it alone."

She spoke as the Institute of Directors (I0D) in Northern Ireland claimed the "genuine voice" of business was not being heard in the debate.

Linda Brown of the IoD said that while the body would not be adopting a campaign position, it encouraged businesses to "weigh up all considerations" to assess how a Brexit could affect them.

She added: "For the majority of members, their vote depends on EU reform being secured by the time of the referendum and that is an area we've been focusing on."

She also warned that boards were not holding enough discussions around the issue and what they could have to do about it.

"We would strongly urge more businesses to have these discussions, even if they don't want to speak publicly about it," Mrs Brown said. "This is the most immediate priority as the genuine voice of businesses in the debate has been under-represented."

She said the extent of structural funds received in Northern Ireland was an important factor.

The Belfast Telegraph this week revealed that the region had received £170m in the last two years from the EU, including money for roads, business development and job creation.

Ms Brown said: "In Northern Ireland and some other UK regions, the use of EU structural funds in infrastructure development is particularly important.

"While the IoD doesn't necessarily support blanket subsidies to create jobs and industry, it's an important consideration in terms of resource channels for some firms and regional economies when considering the debate." Meanwhile, the managing director of generator maker AJ Power has said he is "fairly agnostic" about the prospect of a Brexit. While the firm does significant business in Europe, much goes to Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden. AJ Power also operates a subsidiary company in Sweden.

Ashley Pigott, the boss of the Craigavon firm, said that whether firms were out or in, they would still have to deal with red tape.

And heavy equipment company Terex, which employs 1,000 people in Tyrone, said it was not giving a view.

But the firm's Terex Materials Processing president, Kieran Hegarty, said business needed stability to thrive.

In an interview with the Ballymena Guardian, William Wright of Wrightbus said it was time for the UK "to take back control of our own affairs".

Earlier this year, Mr Wright called for Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen to intervene after a Belgian firm won a £19m contract to build 30 new buses for Belfast.

While the company does a lot of business in Dublin, the majority of its exports are to farther-flung destinations including India, China and Singapore.

Last week, the firm confirmed a £62m order for 195 of its Routemaster buses from Transport for London. London Mayor Boris Johnson visited Ballymena to announce the deal, one week after he came out in favour of a Brexit.

He was accompanied by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, who is also campaigning for a Brexit.

Mr Wright (88) said: "The bureaucracy of Europe is not conducive to the UK's business interests. I am firmly in the leave camp."

He began his career working in his father's coach-building firm in the 1940s.

Belfast Telegraph

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