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Irish border question is ‘litmus test for a successful Brexit' - IoD head

Belfast-born Stephen Martin, the new Director-General of the IoD, who was speaking in Belfast last night

GETTING the question of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic right will be the “litmus test of a successful Brexit”, the newly appointed Director General of the Institute of Directors (IoD) told more than 200 delegates at the organisation's annual dinner

Belfast-born Stephen Martin, previously chief executive of the Clugston Group, only took up the post last week and says he's joined at an “interesting time”.

He said: “In just the last few weeks, we've seen the UK Government compelled by the Supreme Court to seek the approval of Parliament before beginning Brexit proceedings, while in Northern Ireland, the resignation of the Deputy First Minister has triggered new Assembly elections.

“You don't need me to tell you that political uncertainty has been dialled up a notch for businesses here in Northern Ireland.”

He said he chose to deliver his first speech as Director General in Northern Ireland because local firms were “in many ways, on the front line in negotiations over the UK's exit from the EU".

A recent IoD survey, conducted with its sister organisation in Dublin, found 10 per cent of IoD members in Northern Ireland and a quarter of IoD Ireland members had employees that commute across the border.

Mr Martin added: “Both the UK and Irish governments have stated they do not want a ‘hard' border put in place – and we welcome that commitment – but we know this will just be one issue among many in broader Brexit negotiations with the EU.

“Getting the question of Northern Ireland's border with the Republic right will be the litmus test for a successful Brexit.”

IoD Northern Ireland chairman Ian Sheppard said the dissolution of the Stormont Assembly was “simply not good enough”.

He told guests: “This is no time for Northern Ireland to be losing its institutions of government – while the Prime Minister and her team are strapping on the pads to go into bat on what are potentially the most important negotiations for over 40 years and which could set the economic course ahead for decades, sadly we in Northern Ireland are still in the pavilion sticking election posters on the notice board.

“However, when the dust has settled and all is said and done, we are going to need words of grace, a time of healing, and leaders who have a vision to lift themselves above the parochial, can stretch themselves beyond their own constituency and make compromises to restore fully-functioning institutions. The next few months will be a real test of our political maturity.”

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