Belfast Telegraph

Chamber president bemoans 'political paralysis'

Appeal for more effort to restore devolution

By Ryan McAleer

The President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce has told a room of business leaders, including DUP leader Arlene Foster, that something needs to be done soon to end the "political paralysis".

Speaking at yesterday's annual president's lunch in Belfast City Hall, Ellvena Graham OBE warned that key infrastructure projects including the A5, North-South Interconnector, £280m Belfast power station and the £150m ultra-fast broadband project have been left in limbo.

Addressing a room of 400 people, the chamber president said: "Since the Executive collapsed a year and a half ago we've been stuck in a no-man's land somewhere between devolution and direct rule with the civil service shouldering all the responsibility."

And referring to May's High Court ruling that a senior civil servant could not approve the Mallusk incinerator without ministerial approval, Ms Graham added: "Now even that arrangement is up in the air." The NI Chamber was among the 12 business organisations who last month wrote to Secretary of State Karen Bradley urging her to end the legal confusion that currently exists.

Renewing the call for political stability, the chamber president said: "We need to see more energy and more willingness being injected into the efforts to restore devolution.

"We need political stability and we need it today just as much as we ever did.

"We need our political representatives to be focused on the future, not the past. We need them to be our standard-bearers, particularly in this crucial period as we move closer towards Brexit."

However Ms Graham added: "Whilst our political process may be gripped by paralysis, the rest of Northern Ireland is not - we're very much open for business."

Sounding a positive note on the success some firms have enjoyed in exports, she said: "It's our strong belief that the export market is the key to growth for Northern Ireland firms. And many of them are showing the way."

The event also heard from Colm O'Neill of BT, who expressed regret that the £150m ultra-fast broadband project had yet to progress to fruition.

He said an analysis of its economic benefit in London has suggested it could be worth up to £1bn for the Northern Ireland economy.

The large delegation also listened intently to a wide-sweeping 40-minute speech from BBC presenter Andrew Neill. The former editor of the Sunday Times suggested that the non-Brexit side of British politics was in a state of near "rigor mortis".

He said: "The life has been sucked out of it and I think part of the problem is that this means that whether you voted to leave or to remain, there is almost no debate - no talk - about what the country needs to do to make itself fit for purpose in the 2020s."

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