Conor Murphy pledges to promote ‘good jobs’, address regional balance and ‘take full advantage of the all-Ireland economy’

Tackling low levels of productivity and achieving net zero also part of ‘economic vision’ set out by Sinn Féin minister

Conor Murphy addressing the media outside Parliament Buildings.
Conor Murphy comments Economy Minister Conor Murphy at Parliament Buildings who has vowed to turn Northern Ireland's economy around with a new economic vision for the next three years. (Liam McBurney/PA)

The north’s first nationalist economy minister has pledged to use the Windsor Framework and take “full advantage of the all-Ireland economy”.

Conor Murphy has also said that overseas companies could face stricter conditions for receiving public funding to set up business in the north.

Speaking in the Assembly on Monday, the Sinn Féin minister said businesses in receipt of Invest NI funding in future may have to commit to locating in a “disadvantaged area”, recruit people who want to re-enter the labour market, or commit to “decarbonise its operations”.

He also said Invest NI needs a new regional structure dedicated to home-grown SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and start-ups.

The comments came as Conor Murphy put his ‘economic vision’ before MLAs.

The Department for the Economy’s strategy since 2021 has been built around the ‘10X’ strategy championed by former DUP ministers Diane Dodds and Gordon Lyons.

Its three pillars included innovation, inclusive growth and sustainability.

Mr Murphy said while there are some elements of the 10X strategy which are “beneficial”, he said it pre-dated the highly critical review of Invest NI.

He also said the Windsor Framework provides more certainty around post-Brexit trade arrangements.

In something of a departure from his DUP predecessors, he said his strategy will outwardly seek to use the north’s dual market access to grow exports and attract more investment, and take “full advantage of the all-Ireland economy”.

Mr Murphy also said a UK government move to scrap a legal duty to protect an all-island economy will have little practical effect.

The Safeguarding the Union command paper, which preceded the DUP’s return to Stormont, pledges to repeal a section of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that places a legal onus on ministers to protect the all-island economy.

The economy minister identified four broad areas of focus for his ‘economic vision’: The promotion of ‘good jobs’; promoting regional balance; addressing the north’s historic issues around low levels of productivity; and reducing carbon emissions in accordance with the legal requirement to reach net zero by 2050.

In order to pursue ‘good jobs’, Mr Murphy said: “We must change this by investing in affordable childcare and by strengthening trade unions, particularly in low-paid industries.”

In addressing regional balance, he pledged to fund local economic strategies and prioritise projects that promote regional balance “such as the expansion of the Magee campus”.

On productivity, which has been an issue for many decades in Northern Ireland, he said: “We can improve our productivity by using dual market access to grow domestic exports and attract highly productive investment.

“Investment in skills, research and development, and innovation will also drive better productivity.”

Finally, he said: “Reaching net zero by 2050 is a legal requirement and a moral obligation to the wellbeing of future generation.”

Mr Murphy also announced the appointment of four independent experts to advise his department on each of the four areas.

Dr Lisa Wilson from the Nevin Economic Research Institute will advise on ‘good jobs’; Dr Conor Patterson from the Newry and Mourne Co-operative and Enterprise Agency, will advise him on regional balance; Queen’s University economics lecturer Dr David Jordan will advise on productivity; while Professor David Rooney from the Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy will be the net zero expert.

“Working with our expert advisors, my department will move at pace to put this vision into action,” said Mr Murphy.

“Its focus will be on delivery. We have a lot of work to do to turn this economy around. That work starts now.”

Welcoming the statement, NI Chamber chief executive Suzanne Wylie said: “NI Chamber’s focus is on competitiveness, people and skills and a sustainable economy.

“Our economy does need to be more productive and we need to develop better jobs and effective childcare support.

“We also need to grasp the opportunity presented by dual-market access, prioritise a green economy, supercharge our approach to decarbonisation and develop focused growth in key business clusters across NI.

“Economic prosperity needs to be owned by the Executive as whole, and by business and other stakeholders. The key to success will be partnership across the Executive as well as co-design and delivery with business on solutions.”