Northern Ireland needs “visionary” leadership and a “competent” Executive to secure its future prosperity, a business leader has said.
John Healy, president of the NI Chamber of Commerce, spoke to a gathering of 900 businesspeople and politicians at its annual president’s dinner on Thursday night.
Political leaders present included DUP leader Arlene Foster, Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane and Sinn Fein colleague, MLA Caoimhe Archibald, as well as the UUP’s leader Steve Aiken and Alliance Party’s deputy leader Stephen Farry.
Secretary of State Julian Smith also attended.
Mr Healy called for “mature and visionary political leadership” and a restored Executive to secure prosperity for the province.
The managing director of Allstate, Northern Ireland’s biggest IT firm, said there had been every possible “permutation” of crisis over the last two-and-a-half years since the Assembly had collapsed.
“We’ve been on the brink, we’ve been on a knife edge. There’ve been lights going on and off at the end of tunnels – and still Northern Ireland waits anxiously for the outcome," he said.
When will we see the re-establishment of a Northern Ireland Executive that will help us address these and many other problems– an Executive that’s open, that listens, is committed and competent? NI Chamber of Commerce president John Healy
But he said that the province was already feeling the effects, with the Chamber’s latest economic survey showing a dip in business confidence, and a belief that Northern Ireland is entering a recession.
“This should be a concern for all of us — business leaders, employers, politicians and anyone with a vested interest in the Northern Ireland economy,” he added.
He said that the lack of political leadership meant that long-term problems like innovation, skills and education were unresolved.
“When will we see the re-establishment of a Northern Ireland Executive that will help us address these and many other problems– an Executive that’s open, that listens, is committed and competent?" he said.
“We’ve been a rudderless ship for too long. This is a critical juncture for Northern Ireland – a time when we need mature leadership - leaders with vision – leaders who won’t drag us back into the past but will help us navigate the path to the future.”
But in contrast, he praised the “talent and vision” of the companies and workers who had committed to living here.
“Almost 900 international companies have invested here, providing exciting job opportunities. And I, for one, can say with my hand on my heart that among the people of Northern Ireland are some of the most dedicated, passionate and accomplished colleagues that I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with," he said.
“We’re also bringing talented staff from beyond these shores. They’re coming here and putting down roots – investing their lives and careers in our country’s future.”
He said it was also time to reward companies who were taking steps to make staff feel appreciated and were “trialling innovative, inclusive new ways of working, with people at the very centre, which results in more resilient businesses”.
Documentary film-maker Louis Theroux was a special guest at the dinner, and shared his insights into human behaviour gleaned from his long experience of documentaries.
The president’s banquet was sponsored by NI Chamber’s communications partner BT, along with supporting sponsors law firm Tughans, Civica, Tourism NI and Grafton Recruitment.