Belfast Telegraph

Sigh of relief from business as they aim to see Northern Ireland back on its feet again

Angela McGowan
Angela McGowan
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland business bodies said they were breathing a sigh of relief as the parties indicated they would sign up to a deal restoring devolution - while also injecting new energy into the economy.

The New Decade, New Approach agreement includes a commitment to improve infrastructure and transport connections, as well as a fund to boost economic competitiveness.

It will also see the return of Ministers to the Executive, including an Infrastructure Minister who will make decisions on matters such as a North South Interconnector to improve security of electricity supply.

Angela McGowan, CBI Northern Ireland director, said businesses were "breathing a collective sigh of relief".

"As the UK moves closer to leaving the EU, the need for a strong voice from Northern Ireland has never been more important," she said. "It's time to reaffirm Northern Ireland's reputation as a great place to do business.

"After three years of under-investment and political stalemate, this bold and ambitious deal is what Northern Ireland needs to get back onto its feet."

Dr Len O'Hagan, the chairman of NI Water, welcomed the draft deal and the priority placed on transforming public services.

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Last year NI Water called for investment in wastewater infrastructure after years of under-funding which it said was hindering growth in the economy.

Dr O'Hagan said: "NI Water's latest strategy has identified the need to invest £2.5bn to begin addressing historic underinvestment. In Belfast alone, £1bn is required to tackle wastewater, flooding and drainage problems".

He added: "Without investment in critical water infrastructure across Northern Ireland, it will not be possible to deliver other priorities in the draft deal in areas such as housing, city deals or developing our tourism sector."

He also welcomed a commitment to 'leaner government', adding: "This has the potential to deliver greater efficiencies in our sector and create better value for the public purse."

He added: "NI Water stands ready to ensure that Northern Ireland can fulfil its potential to have a cleaner, greener and more prosperous future. Restoration of devolved government and political direction, if underpinned by the required levels of funding, will ensure this will happen."

Ann McGregor, the chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also welcomed the deal, saying it heralded the return of "sustainable, long-term" devolution.

"The business community has long been calling out for the return of the Northern Ireland Executive, to restore business confidence and ensure that overdue decisions can be made and enacted. It was always our belief that such decisions should be taken by locally accountable ministers.

"After almost three years with no Assembly, our MLAs must move fast to start reversing the damage and restore the confidence of businesses, consumers and investors. There needs to be immediate, substantial action to reinvigorate our stagnant economy, build new infrastructure, boost skills and lower the cost of doing business in 2020."

She said the Chamber welcomed the focus on investing in business growth, with the establishment of a new international trade plan, trade advisory board, trade accelerator plan and a 'Made in NI' campaign.

"As complex trade arrangements are negotiated in the wake of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, there must be a cross-party approach to representing and protecting the unique interests of Northern Ireland's economy," she added.

Belfast Telegraph