'If Northern Ireland was a business, it'd be bust' says Chamber president

NI Chamber of Commerce president Paul Murnaghan laid down a challenge to politicians at the organisation's annual banquet at ICC Belfast
Gary McDonald Business Editor

NORTHERN Ireland “has stayed static for too long and is held still by the dead hand of political division, seeing eternal obstacles, not opportunities,” a business leader has claimed.

And he added: “To put it bluntly, if this place was a business, it would more than likely be out of business.”

NI Chamber of Commerce president Paul Murnaghan, in his keynote address at the Belfast ICC to 600 guests, including a number of MPs and Stormont ministers, also insisted “now must be the time to shake off the shackles and focus on opportunity”.

Mr Murnaghan, who is regional director for BT Enterprise, also hailed the benefits of dual market access.

He said: “In terms of Brexit and the Protocol, we know there were serious challenges from the start, and there are still issues remaining.

“Yet 70 per cent of our members say our unique status presents opportunities for this place.

“And as an optimist myself, I believe we are at the starting blocks for what could be a unique chance for Northern Ireland.”

Mr Murnaghan also claimed the region, despite its exceptional talent, creativity and innovation, “punches well below its weight economically.”

“We still see pockets of unacceptable deprivation, where people struggle to access opportunities to work, upskill and to access basic services most of us take for granted.

“So to capitalise on the opportunities, we need to re-imagine our position in the world as a global centre of creativity, innovation and prosperity, whilst prioritising a diverse and inclusive society.”

He also insisted the recently announced multi-year budget could provide a catalyst to tackle the causes of physical and mental ill-health, where the whole of government could deliver a much richer return than the sum of its constituent parts.

“We need to treat health as a precious national asset. This would re-define the health challenge as a collective all-of-government task, not one just for the Department of Health," he said.

“Everyone understands that the benefit of transforming health and education is about improving, not depleting services. Hard decisions are required in order to achieve this. But you can be assured that we in the business community will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with public sector colleagues.”

Guests at Thursday's banquet, which was compered by broadcaster Craig Doyle, also heard from guest speaker, legendary Olympian Sir Mo Farah.

The event was delivered with the support of headline sponsor BT, supporting sponsors Phoenix Natural Gas, Tourism NI and Tughans, as well as drinks reception sponsor Staffline.

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