Belfast Telegraph

'Fresh Start' will provide us with impetus

As the Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Bill finally passes through parliament at Westminster, lobbyist Barry Turley asks if the last 12 months of political turmoil were really worth the wait for us all

It's hugely debatable whether a marginally better deal was worth the rancour and governmental paralysis which dogged the last year in Northern Ireland.

As a lobbyist on behalf of a range of business clients, in common with many others in the public affairs field, I've seen up close how little has been achieved in the past year. Nevertheless, business as usual is set to recommence with the forthcoming elections and programme for government looming on the horizon, and that, at last, is cause for optimism.

Our latest political deal, entitled 'A Fresh Start' will provide impetus, not only for the political class, but also for the public, business and in my case, lobbying and campaigning.

The agreement will aim to implement most aspects from the ill-fated Stormont House Agreement, with legacy issues an obvious omission from proceedings. The latest deal will create a framework from which to move forward and will also provide clarity on issues like budgets and closure on the thorny issue of welfare reform.

Also significant is the news regarding the much awaited cut in Corporation Tax (due to be implemented in 2018). Since the Stormont House Agreement, the issue of Corporation Tax seems to have lost much of its momentum and goodwill. Perhaps this will subside if the lure of big business recaptures the public imagination and the draw of job creation becomes a reality.

The last six (eight, 10, 12, I've lost count) months of teetering on the brink has created some problems for lobbying and campaigning businesses like my own. "So what?", you might ask. However a loss of impetus on lobbying means that, in my case, progress on issues like manufacturing policy and the introduction of improved teaching of coding in schools has been slowed down.

The new deal provides some solace in advance of the forthcoming elections (and departmental changes) and it is of great relief to know we will have a functioning government in place, making important decisions once more.

Sectors like manufacturing and IT require a cooperative government to allocate funding, create strategies, and pass legislation to have any chance of fulfilling potential, and improving the standard of living in Northern Ireland.

The next few months are of particular significance with a new programme for government to be established. Instability aside, we are in the midst of great transition "on the hill'. The coming months will see an Executive shake-up in terms of new departments and many of the most familiar faces within our Executive appear to be heading for the exit door as a swathe of new blood enters.

The forthcoming retirement of First Minister Peter Robinson has stolen many of the last week's headlines. As with any parting political heavyweight, reactions will be mixed in terms of legacy. However, like his predecessor, he has left NI with a functioning government, and, history has a habit of looking fondly upon those who leave with a government intact rather than dissolved.

Ending on a positive note, if a lower rate of Corporation Tax comes into being and delivers the tens of thousands of new jobs forecast, then our current political leaders at Stormont can finally take some credit for an achievement that will deliver economic benefits for generations to come.

Barry Turley is managing director of Turley PR and Public Affairs

Belfast Telegraph