Posted on Friday 10 January 2020 by John Mulgrew

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Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Pic Kelvin Boyes

Northern Ireland’s business community has given its support for a deal which has seen the Assembly up-and-running after a three year stasis.

The Northern Ireland Assembly could return on Friday if political parties back a deal tabled by the UK and Irish Governments.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has indicated that her party will back the deal, while Sinn Fein said its leadership will meet to discuss it on Friday. The UUP has said they will consider the deal, but are willing to attend the Assembly if it sits.

In a joint statement urging politicians to accept the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal, NI Chamber president John Healy, vice president Ian Henry, and chief executive Ann McGregor, said:

“After three years of paralysis, we now have a workable deal that will allow an Executive to start addressing the problems within our health service and education system. They will also be able to take action to grow our economy and support the community and voluntary sector.

“We therefore encourage the five main political parties to progress it urgently. Business, health and education cannot wait any longer - failure is not an option.

“Now is the time for our politicians to show mature leadership and help navigate a path to the future by accepting this deal.”

Secretary of State Julian Smith and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney published the 'New Decade, New Approach' deal on Thursday evening and urged parties to back it and return to Stormont on Friday.

Reacting to the news, Trade NI – the alliance of Retail NI, Manufacturing NI and Hospitality Ulster – said:

“We welcome the draft deal published by the British and Irish Governments in the final round of talks to restore devolution. We strongly encourage all the main parties of Northern Ireland to sign the deal today and get the Assembly back up and running.”

“As our three organisations represent the majority of the businesses that make up private sector jobs in Northern Ireland, we are cautiously hopeful that the deal and a return of the Assembly will see the development of policies and legislation at devolved level and the kick start that our economy desperately needs. The clear prioritisation of the Northern Ireland economy highlights the many challenges that businesses have faced over the past three years and our message to the parties is that we support you in your endeavours to secure this deal.”

“While this is a good start, improvements are still needed to drive the economy forward and support the growth of business across Northern Ireland. As stated in our Vision 2030 document, Northern Ireland’s potential is significant but reform and growth is needed to create the modern economy we are capable of and deserve.”

FSB NI policy chair, Tina McKenzie, said: “Businesses will welcome the agreement published last night as a step forward towards restoring devolved government, something for which FSB has been calling since the collapse of the institutions three years ago.

“The draft agreement contains some positive commitments to bolster the local economy, on issues like skills, infrastructure and Brexit. However, the return of devolution is by no means a panacea; it just means that at long last we have elected representatives in place to tackle a very difficult task.

“The next Executive must move quickly to deliver on the myriad issues which have been left unaddressed for far too long. While the health service will be high on the agenda, we must not lose sight of the need to bolster our SME economy, which is the absolute bedrock on which the first-class public services to which we all aspire are built.

“Ministers must move swiftly to support our economy at one of the most turbulent times for many decades, starting by lowering the rates burden on small businesses, whilst also moving forward rapidly with key infrastructure projects which have stalled; and ensuring that our schools, colleges, and universities are providing students with the skills they need for the jobs of the future.

“In order to begin to address these issues, the parties must put pragmatism first and get back round the Executive table.”

Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster, said: “We encourage all parties to seize this opportunity and sign up to the deal published late last night to get the Assembly and Executive back as quickly as possible.”

“This is the best chance to bring the devolved government back to life. Our message to the party leaders is clear, we support you in your endeavours and encourage you to get the New Decade, New Approach agreement over the line today.

Redmond McFadden, president of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce said: “The Londonderry Chamber as well as other representatives of business, education, health, trade unions and civic organisations, held a meeting with the five main political parties at Stormont last night.

“At that meeting we pressed the urgent need for the parties to agree the draft deal which was published by the British and Irish Governments. Three years without Ministers making local decisions has had an enormous impact on our economy and wider society. A lack of effective and meaningful representation here is curtailing investment in our region, stifling job creation and driving our young people away.

Simon Hamilton, chief executive of Belfast Chamber, said: “Belfast Chamber welcomes progress towards the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and encourages the local political parties to reach agreement. For the last three years, our members have seen how an absence of decision making has stunted growth and stifled investment. The proposed priorities for the Executive contain some issues which Belfast Chamber has been supportive of for some time.

“Other policies which could boost our economy are noticeably missing but we look forward to joining with our colleagues across the business community to ensure that the new Executive pursues an agenda that grows jobs and boosts our economy.”

Northern Ireland Local Government Association chief executive, Derek McCallan said: “I am very pleased that the British and Irish governments have tabled a draft deal on restoring the NI Executive. I hope that an agreement can be reached quickly to get the Stormont institutions back up and running immediately. For three years, our eleven local councils have been the only functioning form of democratically elected government in Northern Ireland. Local government has been a vital democratic anchor during this period and ensured the provision of crucial public services for local citizens.

“It’s time to bridge the democratic deficit and unlock the potential of local government in Northern Ireland by investing in our local councils. An Executive commitment to a devolution bill and greater financial powers and resources will drive a transformation in Northern Ireland’s democratic governance and help create a more sustainable democracy, environment and economy for Northern Ireland.”

Kirsty McManus, national director, IoD NI, said: “The ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal is to be welcomed, filled with ambition that, if fulfilled, can deliver real improvements for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland.

“We would therefore urge all parties to get behind the deal to enable the speedy restoration of the Executive.

“Commitments from the British and Irish governments for some crucial pieces of infrastructure such as the York Street Interchange, upgrades to the A5 and A6 road and Northern Ireland’s wastewater network are particularly pleasing.

“The expansion of university provision at the Magee campus in Derry meanwhile will go some way to rebalancing the regional economy.

“Plans for multi-year budgets and increased civic engagement will also improve overall governance.

“From a business perspective however, we would have liked to have seen more around a new skills agenda, which urgently require focus alongside a renewed look at the Apprenticeship Levy which is not included in this deal.

“On behalf of our members, we will also monitor closely commitments to bring forward legislation that will allow unfettered access to the Great Britain market for local business following Brexit.”

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