‘Time to get things moving again’ - business bodies respond to DUP backing of deal to restore power-sharing

‘Priority now is delivery’ say trade groups, with public sector pay top of the agenda

L-R: Anna Doherty (Derry Chamber), Gerry Murphy (ICTU) and Suzanne Wylie (NI Chamber).
L-R: Anna Doherty (Derry Chamber), Gerry Murphy (ICTU) and Suzanne Wylie (NI Chamber).

The DUP’s endorsement of a deal to restore power sharing at Stormont has been broadly welcomed by business and trade bodies.

The precise timeline for the restoration of the executive is still unclear, but Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s announcement that he had secured the “decisive” backing of the 130-strong party executive during a marathon meeting on Monday night, means the Assembly could be back up and running within days.

Anna Doherty, the chief executive of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce said the development comes as “a huge relief” to the business community.

“After almost two years without an Executive or Assembly, it’s time to get things moving again.

“Our businesses need it, and our economy needs it. The return of local decision making can only be positive, and we look forward to working with a new Executive when it is formed, particularly a new Economy Minister.

“We hope the necessary legislation will be put in place as swiftly as possible so that a new Executive can be established without delay.”

In a joint statement from the Northern Ireland Chamber, the group’s president Cathal Geoghegan and chief executive, Suzanne Wylie, said businesses hope to see the Executive restored within days, but importantly, on a long-term, sustainable footing.

“Clearly the pressing issue of public sector pay will need to be dealt with immediately and the new Executive will then need to agree a new programme for government to deal with the longer-term challenges we are facing.

“Whilst we await clarity on the details of the proposed deal, it is our hope that it helps to unlock Northern Ireland’s economic potential, underpinned by its unique capabilities and strengths.

“Our priority now is delivery; on the public finances and transformation of public services, as well as economic priorities including reform of the planning system, boosting productivity, solving the childcare challenge, dealing with our skills and infrastructure gaps and developing our unique proposition as a place to do business.”

Angela McGowan, director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said a fully functioning executive will send out a positive signal to global investors.

“While businesses will be relieved to see an end to this impasse, there will also be a strong sense that the hard work starts now,” she said.

“When politicians return to Stormont, they must grasp the opportunities provided by our unique trading arrangements with Britain and the EU. "

Tina McKenzie, UK policy chair of the north’s biggest business body, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said it was “finally time to move forward and deal with the many issues on the table in NI”.

On the in-tray for an incoming executive, she listed: Public sector pay, waiting lists, childcare costs, economic inactivity, trade and business rates.

Chief executive of the Construction Employers Federation, Mark Spence, said: “Between now and the next scheduled Assembly election in 2027, there is an opportunity to fundamentally reform many of our key economic enablers which have been subject to years of drift and delay.

“That opportunity can though only be realised if our Executive works collaboratively, finally taking Northern Ireland away from the years of silo-structured government which have consistently held back progress.”

Jeffery Donaldson standing in front of microphones.
Stormont Assembly Sir Jeffery Donaldson announcing the DUP's endorsement of a deal to restore Stormont at a press conference at Hinch Distillery, Ballynahinch, Co Down. (Liam McBurney/Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Meanwhile, the Assistant General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Gerry Murphy said it was welcome news for the thousands of workers who went on strike on January 18 over pay.

“This means the Secretary of State must now deliver on his promise and unlock the financial package he has withheld from the NI Department of Finance.

“Talks between trade unions and public sector employers must begin immediately so workers can reap the rewards of their principled resistance to these shameful political games.

“Once the pay issues have been fairly resolved, the trade unions expect to contribute to the policy programme of the restored legislative assembly and the NI Executive.

“This is as equally important as the role working people played in the restoration of the Belfast/GFA institutions this week and have done since the suspension of Stormont two years ago.”

Responding to the political progress, Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts called on public transport trade unions, Unite, GMB and SIPTU to call off Thursday’s planned strike by bus and rail workers “as a gesture of goodwill”.

Four transport strikes are currently planned for February.

“All the main political parties have now committed to getting the much needed pay to all public sector workers and therefore further strike is not necessary,” he said.

“It will only cause further disruption to our economy.”

L-R: Justin Cartwright (CIH), Colin Neill (Hospitality Ulster) and Marie Marin (Employers For Childcare).
L-R: Justin Cartwright (CIH), Colin Neill (Hospitality Ulster) and Marie Marin (Employers For Childcare).

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said the sector “has struggled to keep its head above water” due to spiralling costs, transport strikes and dwindling budgets.

“The lack of a functioning government at Stormont has only exacerbated these issues, so the fact that the devolved institutions may soon return is good news for business owners across Northern Ireland,” he said.

“We understand that there are still legislative hurdles to overcome, and that an exact timetable is still uncertain.

“However, this forward momentum is good news, and we look forward to working with local MLAs and ministers who can make vital and timely decisions to stabilise our economy and invest in the hospitality sector here.”

Mr Neill said the hospitality body will continue to lobby for its three-point plan for growth, investment and jobs.

“For hospitality to thrive, we need our local politicians, and the UK government to understand that VAT needs to be lowered, business rates should be overhauled, and that investment must be prioritised.”

Marie Marin, chief executive of Employers For Childcare said the charity welcome a return to Stormont, but said the incoming executive must prioritise “the long overdue and much needed” new early learning and childcare strategy.

“We know our politicians, across all parties, have expressed their commitment to delivering on childcare. But the time for talking is over.

“We now need to see promises translated into policies that put pounds into the pockets of families, and investment into our critical childcare infrastructure – and very quickly.”

Justin Cartwright, director of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) in Northern Ireland, said a return to power-sharing is crucial to addressing the “crisis” in housing, including waiting lists for social housing and the cost of living crisis.

“As we navigate through the cost of living crisis, where individuals and families struggle with the affordability of housing and energy, it is imperative that our political leaders work together to implement policies and initiatives that alleviate these burdens,” he said.

“We urge swift legislative action in the UK Parliament to solidify the terms of the agreement and enable the timely return of the Executive.”