Trade Influence

Chambers of Commerce lead collaborate efforts on ‘economic game changers’

23rd May 2024

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) has hosted a delegation of businesses leaders from Cork and Dublin, who are visiting Belfast as part of a first-of-its-kind collaboration, focused on enhancing all-island connectivity and fostering collaboration in areas of strength.

Delivered in partnership with Dublin Chamber and Cork Chamber, the mission was focused on connecting people, places and businesses in pursuit of economic prosperity. A forty strong group, which included senior representatives from airports, ports, tourism, business and public transport agencies in both jurisdictions visited key development sites, including Belfast Harbour and the new Grand Central Station, to discuss what future investment in infrastructure could deliver for economic growth. They also heard from innovative businesses clustered in the focus areas, as well as how universities and colleges play a key role in in developing key growth sectors. The Chambers have agreed to continue to look for opportunities to work together.

The two-day dialogue was welcomed by elected representatives including Economy Minister, Deirdre Hargey, Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd and Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital & Company Regulation, Dara Calleary TD who led a specially convened Ministerial meeting to discuss key policy asks from this group to both governments, including better rail connectivity, the possibility of restoration of flights between Cork and Belfast, further investment in ports, enhanced tourism links and the promotion of collaboration through all-island innovation clusters.

Addressing the group, Economy Minister Deirdre Hargey said:
 “My department is already driving all-island collaboration in key economic areas, such as tourism and sector clusters, and I’m keen that this all-island approach continues and grows.


“We have much to gain in sharing our skills and learning across the island, to ensure we have a buoyant workforce – both north and south – ready to support local businesses to grow, or indeed, foreign direct investment firms, who are always impressed by our home grown talent.


“By supporting innovation in local companies, creating clusters of excellence, and driving initiatives such as the Fintech Corridor, we will not only be improving the productivity of the North, but further enhancing an island-wide reputation which is already attracting international acclaim, and leading globally.”

Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd accompanied the delegation to the new Grand Central Station site, which will open later in the year.

He said: “Connecting our island North to South and East to West is the key to the economic prosperity and the social well-being of our people.  Infrastructure development on the roads, through rail connections and our ports, will support the ongoing efforts to develop trade and tourism. Grand Central Station, which is a fantastic new transformative transport asset, will be a game-changer and will play its part in enhancing connections    I look forward to this important collaboration continuing for the benefit of everyone on the island of Ireland.” 

Minister Dara Calleary, Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation emphasised the significance of this mission, saying:

“We have seen phenomenal growth in North South trade in recent years, which is one of the key achievements of the peace process. Combined cross-border goods and services trade has seen a threefold increase since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.  The Government is committed to protecting and bolstering these trade links and to building on the economic dividends of the peace process to the benefit of all parts of our shared island.”

Speaking about the collaboration, Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive, NI Chamber said:

“Across so many sectors, the business community is leading out with great ambition to strengthen all-island trade. In multiple cases, our member companies are already ahead of the game, so this is about how we, as three Chambers of Commerce can elevate it further by finding the synergies which currently exist and making the strongest business case possible for future investment in economic game changes which will deliver mutual and shared benefit.

“Over the course of these two days, we will be profiling the role that ports play in driving regional economies, discussing how we can incentivise more innovative business clusters and create a shared ecosystem. Our guests have seen for themselves the development of the largest integrated bus and train station on this island and together, we have conferred around our mutual aspirations for faster trains and more connected air routes. We are also focused on how to realise the potential for much greater impact from tourism development.

“It is an exciting initiative and has been a real privilege for NI Chamber to host the first delegation along with our members including Translink, Belfast Harbour and B-Secur, showcasing this region’s unique strengths and capabilities, as well as its vast growth potential. Our intention is that this will grow into a solid partnership, driving forward the fundamental tenets of prosperity and competitiveness.”

Joe O’Neill, CEO at Belfast Harbour Commissioners hosted the delegation, telling them that: 
“Belfast Harbour is Northern Ireland’s primary gateway to the rest of the world, so it plays a hugely significant role as an economic enabler for the region. The same applies to major ports in Dublin and Cork, which are also maritime gateways for trade on the Island.

“Over decades, our ports have supported evolving industrial landscapes and changing tourism patterns. As we race to decarbonise energy systems, our port infrastructure must stay a step ahead. At Belfast Harbour, we are committed to building a truly sustainable, clean, Green Port which plays a pivotal role in a highly connected infrastructure eco-system.  This visit by Chambers of Commerce has been a timely opportunity to combine our experiences and shared aspirations.”

Conor Healy, Cork Chamber CEO said,
 “Northern Ireland’s unique position as part of the UK internal market while, at the same time, having unique access to the EU’s single market of nearly 450 million people provides a solid opportunity for growth. Enhanced rail services, improved port connectivity and the re-establishment of the Belfast-Cork flight are essential to harnessing opportunities in trade, tourism, education and innovation. By building relationships and connectivity, it will ensure that Belfast and the surrounding areas, Dublin and Cork can prosper and grow together, using these unrivalled opportunities as key economic engines of the island.”

Mary Rose Burke, Dublin Chamber CEO said:
 “The collaboration between our chambers is a testament to the shared vision we hold for an interconnected and thriving island economy. Dublin, as the economic hub, will benefit immensely from enhanced connectivity with Cork and Belfast, driving not just economic growth but also cultural exchange. We in Dublin Chamber have long advocated for a greater degree of cross border co-operation and this visit is a continuation of that. Our island economy can only continue to grow and this will be aided significantly by further investment in infrastructure such as the Narrow Water Bridge, including €600million towards the proposed upgrade of the A5 road, and key to this will be a high speed rail link from Cork to Dublin and onto Belfast and beyond. This initiative represents a bold step forward in leveraging our geographic and economic strengths to create a cohesive strategy that benefits all our communities.”

Together, the NI, Cork, and Dublin Chambers are focused on progressing five key aspirations which are:

Better Rail Connectivity for Cork-Dublin-Belfast:
 Aiming to create seamless higher-speed rail links that will significantly reduce travel times and enhance regional connectivity.

Restoration of Cork-Belfast Flights:
 Restoring domestic flights between Belfast and Cork will enhance business and tourism links, making the island of Ireland a more attractive destination for visitors and investors.

Funding Allocation for Ports:
 Securing investments to future-proof the three major ports, ensuring they can support economic growth and industrial advancements.

All-Island Innovation Clusters:
 Promoting collaboration between industry and education to foster innovation and create competitive clusters across the island.

Enhancing Tourism Links:
 Developing strong tourism links by harnessing regional strengths, place branding, and evolving the story of Ireland to represent a modern island.