Belfast Telegraph

Politicians are urged by business leaders to restore Stormont and give Northern Ireland loud voice in Brexit talks

By Margaret Canning

Leading members of the business community have travelled to Westminster to call on politicians to show "courage and magnanimity" by restoring power-sharing and giving the province a voice in Brexit talks.

DUP Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday hosted a high-profile House of Commons reception for around 260 guests, including Secretary of State Karen Bradley and around 130 other MPs and peers.

There were bosses from some of NI's top companies, including Creagh Concrete and Danske Bank, as well as developers like Castlebrooke Investments and student housing firm, Olympian Homes.

The event, led by Hospitality Ulster, Manufacturing NI and Retail NI, was the biggest NI-focused business event at Westminster in recent years.

Mrs Bradley told the event that she would this week mark nine months in her role of Secretary of State, but that it was a matter of "immense frustration" that Northern Ireland remains without an Executive.

"Today the focus is on Northern Ireland, on its economic growth and on getting the Executive back up and running."

But in the absence of an Executive, she said "we have to do everything we can to get the focus on the economy".

Sir Jeffrey told guests, including Lord Trimble, Lord Kilclooney, NI-born Labour MP Conor McGinn, other DUP MPs including Emma Little-Pengelly, independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon, Sinn Fein MPs Michelle Gildernew and Paul Maskey, and former Secretaries of State Theresa Villiers and Tom King, that Northern Ireland is "open for business" despite its political difficulties.

Manufacturing NI, Hospitality Ulster and Retail NI - industries which together account for around 300,000 jobs in NI - launched a document called a New Deal for Northern Ireland at the reception.

They called for a restoration of Stormont, the devolution of corporation tax by April 2021 and an extension of the small business rate relief scheme.

The groups also want a notional sum of £300m that had been set aside by the Executive to fund the devolution of corporation tax by 2018 to instead be used for skills, infrastructure and rate-relief extension.

The group's leaders - Glyn Roberts, Stephen Kelly and Colin Neill - said: "NI is falling behind and it's time decision-takers and policy-makers act to introduce radical change to our failing economic policy. We believe that redistributing some of the money earmarked for corporation tax to skills, infrastructure and struggling small businesses will help to stimulate major economic growth."

Speaking at the event, Seamus McKeague, the head of Creagh Concrete in Co Antrim - which employs around 600 people - said the lack of an Executive was a drag on business growth.

"We need our own ministers to set strategy and guidance," he said.

"It's like the way you have to be in business - you have to show magnanimity and courage.

"You can't always be looking over your shoulder to see what might go wrong - so it should be the same in business.

"We'd tell politicians to show the same magnanimity and courage that you have to show in business."

Richard Hogg, of concrete firm Macrete, and a director of Precision Gear Company, said his business also wanted answers about what Brexit could hold, saying uncertainty was putting future deals for his wind turbine-related operation in doubt.

And Nick Whelan, chief executive of Dale Farm, NI's biggest dairy co-operative, said he also wanted to ask questions about Brexit.

"I know we may be headed for a no-deal outcome, but there has to be some kind of contingency plan," he said.

"We need to find out what that contingency is because in the short-term at least, a no-deal will be catastrophic."

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