Tue 28th Mar 2017
March 2017: Devolved Government with local, accessible and responsive Ministers is the preferred option
Nick Coburn, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Living in and doing business in Northern Ireland, it seems we don’t have to wait too long for a momentous day, an historic event or a milestone occasion.
Yesterday the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said there is “no appetite for another election” after the deadline to form a new power sharing executive in Northern Ireland passed. He said there was “a small window of opportunity” to strike a new deal and he will be making a full statement in the House of Commons today on the way forward but stressed there was an “overwhelming desire among the political parties and the public for strong and stable devolved government.”
With the expiry of the 27 March deadline yesterday and no prospect of an agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP and no appointment of a First and deputy First Minister, Northern Ireland finds itself in political stalemate once again.
The business community has made its views very clear and we reiterate again, devolved Government with local, accessible and responsive Ministers is the preferred option, by far.
Meanwhile last week was dripping with political symbolism as the former deputy First Minister was buried in his home city of Derry, complete with senior dignitaries from across these islands and from the USA. Here in the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry we express our sympathies to the family and friends of Martin McGuinness, he was always very open to the Chamber and we had very useful dialogue with him along with his colleagues about growing the local economy over the last number of years.
On the wider stage, Brexit will be cemented tomorrow with the triggering of Article 50 by Prime Minister Theresa May that will formally start the UK’s two year exit process from the EU.
The implications for the UK as a whole are very clear and the knock on implications for us here in Northern Ireland in terms of skills and trade are concerning. The administrations in Wales and Scotland are making their views known and they are having an input into the UK wide discussions and negotiations. This is not a time for Northern Ireland to be unrepresented at the Brexit table.
A year ago Brexit seemed an unlikely possibility, but it has become a real factor with the potential to harm sectors of our economy and re-introduce barriers to trade on an all Ireland basis.
The EU Chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier has already signalled that Northern Ireland will be a key and an early issue to be resolved in the Brexit negotiations. That is a clear signal of the potential that Brexit has for us, and it increases the need for us to have our own Government in place.
Last week was a very significant political week locally; the week we face into is even more so. So while the business community and wider society looks on with fingers crossed, the onus is on our elected leaders to lead. As always, they have our support.