Diane Dodds accused of lacking vision over protocol potential

Economy Minister Diane Dodds.
Ryan McAleer

A NEW 12,000-word document setting out Economy Minister Diane Dodds’ vision for the next decade has been criticized for omitting any reference to the Irish protocol or the all-island economy.

Presenting the '10X Economy: An Economic Vision for a decade of innovation' paper yesterday, Ms Dodds spoke of her vision as being “purposefully bold and ambitious”.

A summary of the report said the north is “facing a once in a generation opportunity to reshape the economy in a way that we have never before been able to achieve”.

But the absence of any reference in the 45 pages to Northern Ireland’s unique new position straddling both the EU and UK markets has raised a few eyebrows.

It comes as the chief executive of Manufacturing NI described a spike in interest in Northern Ireland as an investment location within the manufacturing sector.

Stephen Kelly said: “In seven-and-a-half years in this job I have never encountered such a level of interest in Northern Ireland as an investment location for manufacturing.”

Referencing a number of significant new investment projects currently being developed, Mr Kelly said: “Whilst these are projects still at an early stage, if we iron out the issues with the protocol and land even a fair chunk of them then they would be transformative.”

One potential major manufacturing investment opportunity lies in Carrickfergus, where Sensata has placed its modern factory on the market for just under £3 million.

The company, which makes tyre pressure sensors, announced plans to close the facility in January 2020 blaming a downturn in the European car market.

It’s understood the site is already attracting strong interest.

The Department for the Economy’s 10X paper includes endorsements from ten prominent figures across the north’s business community.

Diane Dodds with (L-R): Steve Orr, Catalyst; Kirsty McManus, director of the Institute of Directors; Dr Jayne Brady, Belfast digital innovation commissioner; Michael Ryan, vice president and general manager of Spirit AeroSystems Belfast; and Dr Joanne Stuart, of Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, who have endorsed the vision document.

SDLP economy spokesperson Sinéad McLaughlin said while there were many “good ingredients” in Ms Dodds' report, including commitments to innovation, skills and the green economy, she said the absence of any reference to the regionally specific advantages offered through the protocol made it read more like a political document from the DUP, rather than a pragmatic plan that can advantage the north.

“The failure to recognise the opportunities created by the protocol for barrier-free trade with both the UK and EU markets is another sign that this is a plan for the DUP, rather than for NI.

“That context of place is not explored, said the Foyle MLA.

Addressing the Assembly on Monday, Diane Dodds spoke of the protocol in terms of the damage it was causing to supply chains and businesses.

But a survey released last week by Manufacturing NI found just 18 per cent of Northern Ireland manufacturers want the protocol scrapped.

The majority of those surveyed called for mitigations to reduce the bureaucracy of the protocol arrangements, with around half believing Stormont should help secure new business opportunities created by the new scenario.

Speaking on Tuesday, Diane Dodds said: “Our economy has already been dramatically reshaped by the Covid-19 pandemic and the past year has highlighted the resilience and creativity of the business community.

“This new vision is centred on making Northern Ireland the most exciting place to do business and to do that I plan to focus on our strengths.

“A 10X ambition is about creating a step change in how we think about our economy. It is not a literalist term about increasing a single metric by a factor of ten; instead we are setting an ambitious pathway for fundamental change to our economy and committing to everyone feeling they are part of this transformation.”

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