Belfast Telegraph

Stormont deal: Northern Ireland business leaders urge parties to do 'heavy lifting' to restore Assembly

A delegation of business leaders, farming representatives, community groups and trade unions after talks at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)
A delegation of business leaders, farming representatives, community groups and trade unions after talks at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Business bodies have urged Northern Ireland's political parties to undertake the “heavy lifting” needed to agree the draft deal to restore devolution.

The draft deal was announced by the Secretary of State and Republic's Foreign Minister on Thursday night.

Business representatives met with the Secretary of State before the document was published.

Trade NI, which is made up of Retail NI, Manufacturing NI and Hospitality Ulster, also welcomed the deal.

"We strongly encourage all the main parties of Northern Ireland to sign the deal today and get the Assembly back up and running.”

"As our three organisations represent the majority of the businesses that make up private sector jobs in Northern Ireland, we are cautiously hopeful that the deal and a return of the Assembly will see the development of policies and legislation at devolved level and the kick start that our economy desperately needs.

"The clear prioritisation of the Northern Ireland economy highlights the many challenges that businesses have faced over the past three years and our message to the parties is that we support you in your endeavours to secure this deal.”

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"While this is a good start, improvements are still needed to drive the economy forward and support the growth of business across Northern Ireland. As stated in our Vision 2030 document, Northern Ireland’s potential is significant but reform and growth is needed to create the modern economy we are capable of and deserve."

Simon Hamilton, chief executive of the Belfast Chamber - and former Finance Minister - also encouraged the politicians to do a deal.

He said: “For the last three years, our members have seen how an absence of decision making has stunted growth and stifled investment.

"The proposed priorities for the Executive contain some issues which Belfast Chamber has been supportive of for some time. Other policies which could boost our economy are noticeably missing but we look forward to joining with our colleagues across the business community to ensure that the new Executive pursues an agenda that grows jobs and boosts our economy.”

The Londonderry Chamber of Commerce said it has pressed the parties to accept the deal.

Its president, Redmond McFadden, said: “Three years without ministers making local decisions has had an enormous impact on our economy and wider society.

"A lack of effective and meaningful representation here is curtailing investment in our region, stifling job creation and driving our young people away... We know there is still some heavy lifting to be done but we are here to support the parties and the two governments and we would strongly encourage people to support politicians in their efforts to get a deal done before another deadline passes.”

NI Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor welcomed the announcement of a “workable” deal and said the Chamber encouraged the five parties to progress it.

“All pillars of society - business, community, unions, education and health - want to see our politicians working together again and this deal will help advance the NI economy.

"It focuses on delivering what matters to our citizens - better public services, a stronger economy and a fairer society. A new Executive will address problems within the health service, reform the education & justice systems, grow the economy, promote opportunity and tackle deprivation.”

Tina McKenzie, Northern Ireland policy director of the Federation of Small Businesses said the published document represented a step toward restoring devolved government.

“The draft agreement contains some positive commitments to bolster the local economy," she said.

"On issues like skills, infrastructure and Brexit. However, the return of devolution is by no means a panacea; it just means that at long last we have elected representatives in place to tackle a very difficult task."

She said the next Executive had to "move quickly" on the many issues sitting in the in-trays of ministerial departments.

"While the health service will be high on the agenda, we must not lose sight of the need to bolster our [small medium enterprise] economy, which is the absolute bedrock on which the first-class public services to which we all aspire are built.

“Ministers must move swiftly to support our economy at one of the most turbulent times for many decades, starting by lowering the rates burden on small businesses, whilst also moving forward rapidly with key infrastructure projects which have stalled; and ensuring that our schools, colleges, and universities are providing students with the skills they need for the jobs of the future.

“In order to begin to address these issues, the parties must put pragmatism first and get back round the Executive table.”

Belfast Telegraph Digital