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Let’s explore benefits of co-operation, says Stuart

Closer collaboration between Northern Ireland and the Republic would help both economies face the challenges posed by |ballooning national deficits, |according to a prominent |business leader.

Joanne Stuart, chair of the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Northern Ireland, said there is potential for much closer links with the South in key areas such as transport, health, energy, tourism and economic development.

She was speaking to 250 guests at the annual North-South Dinner in Belfast City Hall on a day when Prime Minister David Cameron held talks at Stormont dominated by the new Government’s plans for £6bn of public spending cuts

Ms Stuart said: “One thing that is clear is the need for a credible and urgent deficit reduction plan, something that IoD members from the south are only too well accustomed to. IoD strongly supports the commitment to a significantly accelerated reduction in the deficit, and we believe it needs to be tackled sooner rather than later.

“We also support the intention that the ‘main burden’ of deficit reduction will be borne by spending cuts rather than tax increases. Northern Ireland cannot escape its share of the national responsibility for reducing the deficit — and nor should it.

“One aspect that is missing in this debate is how we leverage our relationship with the south. We are very aware of the challenges that the Republic is facing — and is dealing with — and we have a unique opportunity to explore how we could work better on an all-island basis.”

Just how close North-South collaboration on the economy should be remains a thorny political issue.

Earlier this week Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams sparked a row with unionist MLAs in the Assembly when he called for the removal of barriers to workers’ mobility and an end to competition between development agencies to increase economic harmonisation.

Guest speaker at the IoD dinner was US economic envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly, who also spoke at a breakfast meeting hosted by Lord Mayor Naomi Long yesterday.

At the earlier event Mr Kelly reiterated his view that Belfast had a “genuine capacity to compete” on a global level to attract foreign investment and applauded the city council’s determination to develop an integrated economic vision for the city.

“At this critical period in the development of the city, a collaborative approach will help make informed decisions on priorities, harness employability and skills, and capitalise on opportunities for global competitiveness,” |he said.

“There are issues in every city, this city is no different, but this city has a tremendous |opportunity, it has tremendous strengths.

“If we focus on the things that you can win with, I think Belfast can be very successful. If we don’t there’s a danger we could miss the window of opportunity.”