Belfast Telegraph

Businesses tell political parties: it's time to get act together

Politicians urged to reach an agreement by deadline

Secretary of State Julian Smith with DUP’s Arlene Foster at Stormont House yesterday
Secretary of State Julian Smith with DUP’s Arlene Foster at Stormont House yesterday
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Businesses have urged political parties to work hard to restore the Executive during a "critical juncture" for Northern Ireland.

The leaders of our five main political parties yesterday held separate talks with Secretary of State Julian Smith as the focus turned to restoring Stormont following last week's general election.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Smith said the parties should be focusing on the crisis facing health in Northern Ireland.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said business, health and education were also facing more challenges than ever.

She said an Assembly election would only exacerbate the problems facing the province.

The Secretary of State is required to call an Assembly election if agreement to restore power-sharing is not reached by January 13.

There is a renewed focus on restoring the Assembly following last week's elections, which the Conservative Party won by an 74-seat majority.

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Roger Fallon, FSB NI's head of external affairs, said small businesses would be willing on the parties to reach agreement, "so we can finally end the almost three-year hiatus without a functioning Assembly and Executive".

"While there is no doubting that pressing issues affecting the health service will be high on the agenda for the next Executive, given the context of Brexit it is vital that skills and access to labour, as well as infrastructure and business support, are in the minds of our political representatives.

"The business community will look favourably on political parties if they work pragmatically to reach a deal, so we can begin take the necessary decisions to tackle the many challenges facing our society."

Ms McGregor said: "This is a critical juncture for Northern Ireland - business, education and health are facing more challenges than ever before and another election would simply exacerbate the problem.

"They need an Executive making decisions, now. This it is a time when we need mature leadership - leaders with vision and a willingness to compromise and help navigate the path to the future.

"NI Chamber and the businesses we represent will offer every support to all political representatives willing to stretch themselves to reach a compromise and see the institutions restored on a credible and long-term basis."

And Stephen Kelly, the head of Manufacturing NI, said the Assembly was required to influence the Prime Minister in implementing the detail of the Brexit withdrawal deal, and in particular, the detail contained in the NI Protocol dictating future trading arrangements.

"With the majority the Prime Minister now has, he can have whatever kind of Brexit he wants.

"His deal is better than no-deal but it comes with very significant burdens on our economy.

"Having an Executive would help him come to the right conclusions. We need voices not just in Westminster but the Assembly."

Belfast Telegraph