Belfast Telegraph

Business leaders' welcome for First Minister in waiting

By Margaret Canning

Businesspeople in Northern Ireland have welcomed the imminent appointment of Arlene Foster as First Minister.

The Finance Minister is the sole nominee to replace Peter Robinson and is set to take up the reins next month.

She is already well-known to the business community, serving as Enterprise Minister through the worst of the recession between 2008 and 2015.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce told the Belfast Telegraph: "Northern Ireland needs to grow the private sector, and to do that we need business-friendly policies.

"Minister Foster is well-briefed on the economy through her service in the Department of the Environment, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Department of Finance and Personnel. We would welcome her appointment."

Patrick Gallen, chairman of Chartered Accountants Ireland Ulster Society, congratulated Ms Foster on her future appointment, but warned she would have "little time to celebrate".

"It is critical that the First Minister can get our politicians to work together and start to engage in economic politics for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland."

Mr Gallen also told how he believed last month's Fresh Start: the Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan had given politicians a new chance.

"It's an opportunity to move towards a new economic future, which will, in turn, create a better place for everyone in our community to live," he said.

"Improvements in health, social care, housing and education are now all more likely if we can secure a strong economy and foreign investment.

"In recent years, Arlene Foster has been at the centre of meeting that challenge."

He added "prosperity, lasting peace and a shared future" were the prizes awaiting the region.

Ms Foster is a trained solicitor who worked in private practice in Enniskillen and Portadown in the early 2000s.

Law Society president John Guerin said the body "congratulates Arlene Foster on her anticipated appointment as First Minister of Northern Ireland.

"We look forward to working with her, Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness and their ministerial colleagues in 2016," Mr Guerin added.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA succeeded Nigel Dodds as Enterprise Minister in June 2008 after one year as Environment Minister.

Her tenure spanned the worst of the economic downturn from 2008 onwards, and into the green shoots of recovery from 2014.

One month after taking over from Dodds, the newly-crowned minister welcomed a £500m investment by Bombardier in a new wings factory for its CSeries jet programme.

She also marked the 400th anniversary of production of Bushmills whiskey in the Co Antrim town.

But just a month later, the good news was thin on the ground and the minister was lamenting "a very challenging period" for Northern Ireland as the global slowdown took effect. The then-Enterprise Minister had to deal with rising energy and o0il prices, as well as falling house prices and poor consumer confidence.

Efforts were increased in her first few months to encourage companies to export to new markets such as the Arabian Gulf, India and China.

But by April the following year, the seriousness of the downturn was being even more acutely felt, with the closure of car parts maker Visteon in west Belfast, as well as job losses at Bombardier, FG Wilson and the now-defunct telecoms giant Nortel.

Belfast Telegraph

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