Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin MLA John O'Dowd believes DUP's failure to attend meetings is damaging economy

John O'Dowd. Picture by Hugh Russell

A Sinn Féin MLA has told a Stormont committee that the DUP’s boycott of North/South meetings is causing damage to the local economy, as Economy Minister Diane Dodds briefed members on a new recovery action plan.

Mrs Dodds launched the new 10X Economy strategy this week which she said would lead to better jobs, wages and quality of life for people in Northern Ireland.

The new strategy identifies 10 guiding principles which include supporting a greener economy, inspiring the future generation to thrive, delivering improved outcomes for all and increasing innovation.

During the DUP minister’s appearance before her scrutiny committee on Wednesday, Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd criticised the new plan, saying it “missed the voice of workers”.

He said: “You read out a list of endorsements of your strategy but you missed an important voice in any economic recovery, and that is the voice of workers.

“Nowhere can I see a serious attempt to engage with the trade union movement to be part of your plan for the economic recovery of our society, which I think is a huge gap because there cannot be a recovery without workers.

“So what is different with this plan from the previous 10 years of your predecessors which has seen us with the lowest economic productivity, the lowest wages and the lowest living standards of anywhere in these islands?”

Mr O’Dowd continued: “The media has reported that Minister Poots has boycotted yet another North/South Ministerial Council meeting in relation to agriculture.

“Given the importance of agriculture and the agri-food industry to our economy, surely the continuing boycotting of North/South Ministerial Council meetings is doing more damage to our ecomony than any glossy document will do for the recovery of our economy.”

Mrs Dodds rejected that her plan was a “glossy document”.

She said: “This is a vision for the Northern Ireland economy, this is about trying to challenge the things we have done in the past which haven’t worked.

“I want a challenge, a step change and a new vision for the Northern Ireland economy and I believe this document gives us that which is hugely important.”

The minister said the trade unions would be part of a wide range of stakeholder consultation on her economic plan.

She went on: “In relation to the North/South Ministerial meetings, you will of course know the issues around the Protocol. I don’t know what was on the agenda for the meeting but I think we can all agree that this vision document sets out a plan for our agri-foods sector, and particularly how we can make agri-foods more competitive.”

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson raised an issue around uncertainty over Mrs Dodds’ future, with the DUP set to elect a new leader on Friday, following the resignation of Arlene Foster.

Mr Dickson said: “I think it is clear that you will be in a different role next week, or no role at all. How do you see your successor, or a future mandate, taking forward your economy plan?”

The minister responded: “What I do or don’t do after this week or next week will be for the party leader and that is fine with me.”

“What we are developing is a vision for the Northern Ireland economy that will outlast this mandate and probably the next mandate.”

Mrs Dodds began her appearance before her scrutiny committee by rejecting criticism about her number of appearances.

She said: “I was disappointed to read some criticism in the media from the deputy chair of the committee about me not attending the committee often enough.

“Let’s be clear and read it on to the record, I have always attended the committee when I have been invited to do so, I have not missed any committee appearances and I am always available to speak to the chair and deputy chair at any time of the week.”

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