North 'still open for business despite political paralysis' says Chamber head

DESPITE a political process “gripped by paralysis”, Northern Ireland is still very much open for business, NI Chamber of Commerce president Ellvena Graham told 400 guests at the organisation's annual business lunch in Belfast City Hall.

And she insisted that "more energy and more willingness" is injected into the efforts to restore devolution.

Ms Graham, who was re-elected earlier this month for a second presidential term, said: “Since the Executive collapsed a year and a half ago we’ve been stuck in a no-man’s land somewhere between devolution and direct rule with the Civil Service shouldering all the responsibility. Now even that arrangement is up in the air.

“Just look at some of the projects that could be left in limbo - the north-south interconnector, the upgrade of the A5, Belfast power station and the £150m ultra-fast broadband project for example. Each of these of vital importance to the business community and to Northern Ireland as a whole.

“We need political stability and we need it today just as much as we ever did. We need our political representatives to be focused on the future, not the past. We need them to be our standard-bearers, particularly in this crucial period as we move closer towards Brexit.”

Ms Graham added: “However, we must also get the message out that whilst our political process may be gripped by paralysis, the rest of Northern Ireland is not - we’re very much open for business.

“In the past year, I’ve experienced the fantastic diversity, innovation and enthusiasm that NI Chamber members represent, in every corner of the country - all of them doing great things.

“And there is significant export success – export is growing. It’s our strong belief that the export market is the key to growth for Northern Ireland firms.

"Many of them are showing the way, like Devenish Nutrition in Belfast, Heavenly Tasty Organics in Augher, TG Eakin of Comber, Clonallon Laboratories in Warrenpoint and Smiley Monroe of Lisburn among many others.

“Selling beyond the home market is about to get a lot more complicated, whatever way the Brexit negotiations pan out. But we have examples of companies who are ready, willing and able to face the challenge. And there are many more like them.”

Guests at the lunch - supported by the Chamber’s communications partner BT and supporting sponsors Cleaver Fulton Rankin and Dell EMC - also heard from renowned BBC broadcaster and media guru Andrew Neil, who provided a keynote address on the power of the media.

The Daily Politics and This Week presenter is one of the most familiar figures in television and the press having been the UK Editor of The Economist, Editor of The Sunday Times, Executive Chairman of Sky TV and Executive Editor of Fox TV News USA.

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