Belfast Telegraph

Stormont a parody of government, CBI boss tells our top politicians

By John Mulgrew

Businesses are calling for a new reformed and restructured Executive, as one leader called Stormont a "parody" of devolved government.

Colin Walsh, chairman of the CBI in Northern Ireland, blasted Stormont, and put pressure on politicians here to ensure the region doesn't return to direct rule.

He also said many firms had been "heavily impacted by the latest budget difficulties".

In what will be his last major speech before stepping down as chair, Mr Walsh pulled no punches, and was heavily critical of politicians - many of whom were in the room - during the business group's 50th anniversary event at the Culloden Hotel outside Belfast.

He said politicians "need to earn the respect of the public again".

"We need to see an end to old divisions - the melodramas, and the brinkmanship."

And he said Northern Ireland may need to "double in size for us to have a truly successful economy".

Mr Walsh, who is also head of venture capital firm Crescent Capital, said devolution was preferable to direct rule. "Our members have made it very clear that we are better off with devolution and they do not want direct rule, but we do not want the old Executive back either."

And he said "recent developments" in Stormont had led the CBI and its members to envisage a new "reformed Executive" which "delivers results and brings an end to the recent series of stand-offs, log-jams and show-downs".

"I had not envisaged that in a little over a month, the Executive could collectively manage to bring our devolved institutions almost to a standstill, for Ministers to be coming and going like yo-yos, and the very future of devolved government being brought to a level of parody that none of us in the room could explain to anyone who is not from here."

Mr Walsh reiterated the group's continued push for a lower rate of corporation tax here - something which has been pushed into the long grass amid the ongoing instability.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also addressed those gathered.

But DUP leader Peter Robinson did not attend, despite receiving an invite to speak.

Northern Ireland's political parties were also represented by SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell and Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt.

But both left during Mr Walsh's speech. Environment Minister Mark H Durkan and Employment Minister Stephen Farry were also present.

Speaking at the event, Martin McGuinness said the ongoing talks are "crucial for the political and economic future of all of us".

And he defended the Executive's record of job creation and helping to grow Northern Ireland's economy.

"We both want to grow the economy, we both want to create jobs and we both want to continue the economic recovery, and it is right we are challenged on our record. But I will defend what we have achieved as an Executive over the past five years.

"We must empower businesses and remove any unnecessary shackles. We must work collectively to create a pro-business environment which is innovative, productive and deliver a quality service."

Belfast Telegraph