NI Chamber President: It’s time to shake off the shackles and focus on opportunity

26th Nov 2021

The President of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber), Paul Murnaghan has hailed the benefits of dual market access during a key-note speech to an audience of business and political leaders. Speaking at tonight’s President’s Banquet in ICC Belfast, he said:

“In terms of Brexit and the resulting NI Protocol, there were undoubtedly serious challenges for some from the start and of course there are still issues remaining.

“But I’m an optimist and particularly tonight, I’d like to try and focus on optimism and opportunity. Through the process we have been guided by our members, 70% of which believe that Northern Ireland’s unique status presents opportunities for the region.

“I really believe we are at the starting blocks for what could be a unique opportunity for Northern Ireland.”

The theme for the event was ‘Moving Forward Together’ and looking to the future he said:

“Our economy has so many of the ingredients required for economic success. We have exceptional talent, creativity and innovation. We are expanding into industries with enormous growth potential.”

He stressed however, that there is much more to do to deliver prosperity in Northern Ireland, saying:

“Unfortunately, Northern Ireland punches well below its weight economically.

“Northern Ireland has remained static for too long, held still by the dead hand of political division – seeing eternal obstacles, not opportunities. To put it bluntly, if this place was a business, we would more than likely be out of business.

“Across Northern Ireland, we still see pockets of unacceptable deprivation, where, for too long, people have struggled to access opportunities to work, to up-skill and to access basic services that most of us take for granted.

“To really capitalise on the opportunities, we need to re-imagine Northern Ireland’s position in the world as a global centre of creativity, innovation and prosperity, whilst prioritising a diverse and inclusive society.”

He spoke too, about the critical role that education and health have to play in economic performance:

“Whilst the proportion of people in employment has risen consistently for six years, high levels of long-term economic inactivity remain. Rather than view this as a problem, could we reimagine this as an opportunity?

“Today, only 7% of our students benefit from an integrated education. The Independent Review of Education is a real chance to ensure that every young person can benefit from a high-quality education, and crucially, with reconciliation at its core.

“We all recognise that poor health, both physical and mental, impacts economic performance as well.  We need to treat health as a precious national asset. This would re-define the health challenge as a collective all-of-government task, not one just for the Department of Health.  The recently announced multi-year budget could provide a catalyst to tackle the causes of physical and mental ill-health, where the whole of Government could deliver a much richer return than the sum of its constituent parts.

“Everyone understands that the benefit of transforming health and education is about improving, not depleting services. Hard decisions are required in order to achieve this. You can be assured that we in the business community will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with public sector colleagues.”

Concluding, Mr Murnaghan had this to say:

“Northern Ireland has huge potential. Of course, old problems remain but it’s time for us to shake off the shackles of the past and we must move forward together.

“We need to see our businesses, our political leaders, our communities, all working together focussed on what unites us, in the best interests of Northern Ireland.”

The President’s Banquet was supported by NI Chamber’s Communications Partner, BT. Addressing the audience, Tara Pollock, Corporate Affairs Director, BT Enterprise added:

“BT is delighted once again to support the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce’s President’s Banquet.  Given all the challenges businesses have faced in the past 12 months, we welcome the opportunity to look to the future with renewed hope and ambition.

“This is a very exciting time for BT.  We are accelerating our future plans to play a much bigger role in the digital fabric of the UK. In Northern Ireland, we’re helping people and businesses acquire the digital skills they need and equipping businesses with innovative new services and mentoring to fuel their growth. We are also making a multi-million pound investment in our Riverside Tower office in Belfast and accelerating our plans to be a net zero business by 2030.

“In addition, we are investing in new growth technology that will help us live and work better. We are collaborating on innovation programmes with both Ulster University and QUB, and supporting a number of trials with Belfast Harbour to identify future use cases leveraging 5G, edge computing and the Internet of Things.”

Attendees at the President’s Banquet also heard from guest speaker, the legendary Olympian Sir Mo Farah CBE, who was interviewed by broadcaster, Craig Doyle.

The event was delivered with the support of headline sponsor BT, supporting sponsors Phoenix Natural Gas, Tourism NI and Tughans, as well as drinks reception sponsor Staffline.