The new president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said the DUP has a position of “opportunity and responsibility” as it continues discussions on an agreement to support the Conservatives' minority government.
In a speech at the Chamber President's annual lunch at Belfast City Hall today, Ellvena Graham said the DUP must secure a deal “for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland”. She said a deal must be “inclusive” and ease “the economic uncertainty that we’ve been enduring for so long”.
Ms Graham – the former head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, said: “There are a number of measures that we have long advocated as vital for growth - investment in our people to support the long term unemployed in particular return to work; increased investment in infrastructure to improve communication and in our universities and colleges to overcome the skills challenges that all our businesses face and additional fiscal powers to boost our economy including City Deals and air passenger duty, etc.”
And she urged the political parties here to reach agreement at home so that the Northern Ireland Assembly could get back up and running.
“We cannot be left in limbo... It really is time to put the Northern Ireland economy first – a strong economy will benefit everyone.”
Ms Graham addressed the issue of Brexit, and said the EU, London, Scotland and Wales all had a plan for Brexit. But she asked: “Where is our plan? We need the Northern Ireland Executive to reform, to agree a final Programme for Government, an economic strategy, and to establish a single Northern Ireland action plan on Brexit which will address key business concerns. It would also be great for inward investment if the long awaited reduction in corporation tax could be finalised.”
And an open border was crucial in Brexit to allow free movement of people, including workers employed on either side of the border.
Guests at the lunch will also hear speeches on the theme of sporting leadership from Northern Ireland football manager Michael O’Neill, Tyrone Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte and Ulster Rugby director Les Kiss.