Belfast Telegraph

Riots toll rising but for investors, it's business as usual

By Amanda Poole

The unrest on the streets of Northern Ireland over the past few weeks has been noted by overseas investors with bases here, but so far doesn't appear to be impacting business plans.

Last week, Nigel Smyth, director of the Confederation of British Industry Northern Ireland, said disruptive street protests and violence have cost Belfast businesses £15m and are damaging tourism and investment.

While restaurants, bars, cafes and some other retailers have been left counting the cost of disruption, a spokeswoman for Invest NI said all meetings with potential investors have gone ahead, with just a "small number" raising concerns about the current unrest.

"Invest NI is working closely with them to minimise the impact of any negative perceptions and reassure investors that Northern Ireland remains a safe and competitive place to do business," she said.

"No planned visits by potential investors have been cancelled and all recent scheduled visits have taken place without disruption."

Bro McFerran (above), managing director of US-owned Allstate NI, said it's "lucky that it's business as usual" for the IT company, but it can be "difficult and embarrassing" explaining what is happening to American colleagues.

"Our company was incorporated in 1998, the same year as the Peace Agreement and we have grown to over 2,000 employees in that time," he said. "We also expect further growth in 2013 and so far our business plans for this year are not impacted.

"Northern Ireland is very attractive to investors and we could attract a lot more IT business to Northern Ireland but current images of rioting being sent around the world will make this increasingly difficult.

"We need everyone to reach an agreement quickly in order to protect the potential jobs for our young people that may be lost if this continues."

Alan Watts, director of the Halo Business Angel Network, said the 100 local and overseas investors that have facilitated £5m in funding for Northern Ireland companies, are discussing the unrest, but at this stage are not overly concerned.

"We are finding it is a topic of conversation.

"But it is far too early to say if it is influencing anything," Mr Watts said.

"Our high net worth business angels are generally a little bit older, so they have experienced a lot through the years.

"We are dealing with UK organisations and fund managers, so we are getting the odd comment.

"It is on people's radar and some are worried it might get worse, but on a day-to-day level for investors it is making no difference."