Wed 27th Mar 2019
March 2019: Who is going to deliver on our future and when do they start?
John Healy, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
There is no doubt that businesses, and people in general, are tired and frustrated after three years of constant Brexit drama. Our future is no clearer today than it was weeks, even months ago – and that is unacceptable.
As the uncertainty surrounding Brexit continues, so does the political stalemate that has held back economic progress in Northern Ireland for over two years now. Even though Northern Ireland sits at the heart of the Brexit debate, we’re still without a united, collective political voice to speak for us.
We need an Executive, urgently, to implement an economic strategy – a strategy that will inspire business confidence; offers indigenous businesses and inward investors a competitive business environment with access to skills and one that provides opportunities for our young people to live and work here.
Last week, the new legislation that empowers Permanent Secretaries to make key decisions, produced its first major result – the green light for the £208m Belfast Transport Hub – a welcomed decision for a project that could create 400 jobs and provide a massive boost for the construction industry.
All eyes will now turn to other projects, such as roads and the North-South Interconnector, to advance in as equally a speedy manner. Recently quashed in the High Court on the basis that it had wrongly received the go-ahead in the absence of a Minister, the North South Interconnector must be revisited as a priority and it’s now up to the Department of Infrastructure to put a new application together as soon as possible using the new powers handed to Permanent Secretaries.
However the existence of that legislation itself is an example of why we need an Executive up and running – why we need Ministers making decisions, not civil servants – why we need a government of elected representatives taking action on key priorities.
It is important to acknowledge however that some members of government are delivering and deserve our appreciation – the members of our local councils. Local government continues to function, differences are being overcome, and local representatives are co-operating for the benefit of their communities.
Indeed it was that positive attitude which led to one of the brighter moments last year – the approval of the Belfast Region City Deal. Such collaboration is also evident in the North West and it is vital that their city deal is also supported.
As we move through 2019, we must maintain this positive and determined outlook at every level.
Our politicians must find a way of working together on economic and social matters. Do they want this limbo to continue indefinitely? Do they want history to look back on this period in years to come and say – they promised so much but delivered so little?