Tue 5th Jun 2018
June 2018: A messy, unsatisfactory and damaging situation
Ellvena Graham, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Last week an unenviable milestone was reached – Northern Ireland passed the 500 days mark without a Government in place, of any kind – and unfortunately there is nothing on the political horizon to suggest that we will see a Government in place in the next 500 days.
The political paralysis is having a real impact in the business community and by extension on the hopes we have for sustainable economic growth over the next decade. The landmark judgement handed down in the legal case taken against the decision to grant planning approval for an Energy from Waste incinerator has led directly to the situation where no major policy or planning decisions will be taken. The Head of the Civil service announced immediately that there would be an appeal against the outcome and also that no decisions would be taken in the interim.
So in the short term at least, no decisions will be made on vital infrastructure projects and that means no progress on the North South Interconnector, which already faces a legal challenge, and possibly on the York Street Exchange upgrade for example. The appeal has been expedited and will be heard later this month, though it is unclear how soon a decision will be handed down. In the meantime, the policy vacuum continues. It is a messy, unsatisfactory and damaging situation.
That is why the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry joined forces with the other business representative bodies last week to make a direct call for political action to facilitate decision making. We presented ideas which we believe would allow civil servants to move ahead with decision making, with political legitimacy with the Assembly committees playing a scrutiny role.
Whether those proposals gain traction or not, we will soon see. However what is clear already is that something must be done either to bring energy to efforts to restore devolution or, in the absence of a deal, to allow decisions to be made with some form of political authority.
The uncertainty around Brexit negotiations and the appearance and withdrawal of proposals to manage the border are making life difficult enough for local businesses. The additional instability around our political progress only makes matters all the more difficult.
Our most recent Quarterly Economic Survey showed that business growth has slowed in Northern Ireland and 2018 has not started well in terms of business optimism. The lack of political structures won’t help and we are at a crucial juncture. Is anyone listening?