Belfast Telegraph

Business boss calling on political parties to end Northern Ireland 'no-man's land'

By Margaret Canning

The president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry is set to call for politicians to inject "energy and willingness" into efforts to restore devolution.

Before 500 guests at the Chamber's annual president's lunch today, Ellvena Graham OBE, a former head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, is expected to say that the province has been in a "no-man's land" between devolution and direct rule for over a year and a half.

She is expected to say that civil servants have occupied the role of decision makers in place of politicians - a state of affairs which itself is now in doubt.

Ms Graham will say that projects vital to the economy in Northern Ireland - such as the North South Interconnector, which business says is needed to secure electricity supply in the future - now face being left "in limbo".

Addressing politicians, the business leader is expected to say: "We need to see more energy and more willingness being injected into the efforts to restore devolution. We need them to be our standard-bearers, particularly in this crucial period as we move closer towards Brexit."

Yet she is due to say that the economy is still on the move despite the political vacuum. "However, we must also get the message out that whilst our political process may be gripped by paralysis, the rest of Northern Ireland is not - we're very much open for business." Ms Graham will praise the efforts of exporters in the economy. "It's our strong belief that the export market is the key to growth for Northern Ireland firms. And many of them are showing the way."

She will add that exports are likely to get more complicated due to Brexit but that companies here are "ready, willing and able" to face the challenge.

The validity of decisions made by civil servants in Northern Ireland since Stormont collapsed in January last year - including the granting of planning permission to the North South Interconnector and to a major energy from waste project in Mallusk - are now in doubt.

Last month, a judicial review process said that the Arc 21 energy from waste project should not have been given the go-ahead by the Department for Infrastructure.

Ms Graham is the latest businessperson to speak out about the effects of the lack of an Executive and the possible impact of Brexit on the economy.

Earlier this week, John McCann of Willowbrook Foods in Co Down said he felt the agri-food sector was in "grave peril".

He said he feared workers from elsewhere in the EU, who form a large proportion of his industry's workforce, would no longer want to work here.

He added that he was puzzled that more people from the business world were not speaking out about the impact of Brexit and political stalemate.

Belfast Telegraph

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