View from the Chair

Stability, not chaos, required over coming months

18th May 2021

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the initial impact of Brexit and the recent unrest and its associated reputational damage to the Northern Ireland economy and wider society, now is a good time to reiterate NI Chamber’s previous calls for political leaders to commit to working together to avoid causing any further unnecessary disruption and to ensure that they remain focused on rebuilding the economy.

Regardless of everyone’s tradition or political views, or whether you are employed in the public, private or third sector, I would confidently say that we are united in our desire to avoid any political chaos in the weeks and months ahead.

We need to ensure that Northern Ireland is a welcoming place for inward investors and that our indigenous businesses have the best chance to grow and export. We must ensure that the cost of moving goods does not reduce our competitiveness or choice and all our young people have a chance to secure good employment.

NI Chamber therefore calls on our all political leaders, as well as members of the Executive across all parties, to commit to working together to avoid causing any further unnecessary disruption and to ensure that they remain focused on rebuilding the NI economy.

Whilst trading conditions remain extremely challenging, some positive shoots are emerging. Business confidence indicators were positive in Quarter 1 and as more sectors of the economy re-open in Quarter 2, we expect that this trend will continue. I also want to put on record NI Chamber’s admiration for the speed of roll-out of the vaccination programme. We commend all of those involved and look forward to further relaxation of restrictions and the full opening of the economy as healthcare outcomes improve.

All crises bring opportunities and COVID-19 is no different. Air quality improved, albeit temporarily, collaboration increased, community bonds deepened and appreciation for workers at all levels was evident. Northern Ireland has maintained access to both UK and EU markets, providing the opportunity to act as a gateway to trade in both markets.

This unique trading access to both the UK and EU has created export opportunities for a range of firms and made us a more attractive location for foreign direct investment. Policy makers and the private sector should build swiftly on the competitive edge that exists at present and conclude on the Freeports conversation as soon as possible. In parallel, the UK and Irish Governments must continue to collaborate with the EU to minimise frictions and costs, provide clarity on regulation and maintain access to skilled labour and external markets.

As our economy recovers, the focus should be on how this unique market access and the ways in which we return to work and learning support the development of a better future in which enterprises and individuals can thrive.

Political leaders, businesses people and citizens must understand that how they behave can impact the whole of society. Our sustained long-term recovery depends on the same spirit of collaboration, compromise and co-operation that saw us through some of the worst weeks of the pandemic. When the need was great enough, the politicians and people of Northern Ireland proved what they could achieve together. So while change may be afoot in political parties and around the Executive table, stability, not chaos must prevail.