Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Kelly: Imperfect deal has a lot to admire, so let's get it done

Stephen Kelly is chief executive, Manufacturing NI
Stephen Kelly is chief executive, Manufacturing NI

By Stephen Kelly

If there is anything which our business community has done of real value for our political leaders in the past three years, it is to protect and promote the virtues and value of pragmatism.

In business, we know we don't always get what we want, but the important thing is to keep moving, maintain the relationships and continue to work to find ways where everyone can win, eventually.

It is often difficult to be pragmatic. There are pressures all around us stretching our capacity for goodwill, people and events demanding we seek the perfect in an imperfect world. But, it is the pragmatists who continue to survive while the competition withers away.

The New Decade, New Approach released by the British and Irish governments on Thursday evening should be and has been welcomed by the business community. We understand the need for the compromises it contains. Ultimately we understand the urgent need to get this devolution show back on the road.

From an NI economy point of view there are of course many gaps in the document which we could choose to concentrate on, but there are also really significant commitments and promises of investment. We can't, won't and shouldn't get all that we want.

However, it is clear that the contribution of the business community in the past 18 months in particular has been registered by the two Governments and hopefully our local parties.

As evidence, after PM Boris Johnson did a rollover and agreed a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU in October, the business community came together and presented a large body of ideas, interventions and investments to protect, repurpose and regenerate the NI economy post-Brexit. Much of these are committed to in the New Decade, New Approach proposals.

Again, this past week we worked and got agreement from all our local MPs on amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. Not surprisingly, given the Tory majority in Parliament, these amendments were rejected as the Government wish to have a clean passage of the Bill to get Brexit done.

However, again, the requirements of these Amendments are in the deal presented to local parties on Thursday evening. The crisis in our health system, the stresses in education are well understood by the public. For those two areas alone, it is worth the local parties allowing pragmatism to overrule their desire for the perfect deal.

A collective NI Executive voice was sadly absent from the Brexit debate this past couple of years. With Boris' deal now done, 2020 is a critical year where how we trade with Great Britain for the next generation will be defined. We really need our local politicians back and batting for us.

And it will take civic society to play our part in creating and protecting the space which allows any new Executive to get going quickly. As we did with the Brexit debate, we are prepared to offer our insight, expertise and effort to help.

"New Decade, New Approach" is not perfect, but there is much to be admired. There is much to get us going, again. For us, there is enough. Let's get it done.

Stephen Kelly is chief executive, Manufacturing NI

Belfast Telegraph

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