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Shake off shackles of the past, Executive urged

Chamber chief claims division is hurting economy

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Big night: At the NI Chamber’s President’s Banquet are Paul Murnaghan (President ,NI Chamber), Sir Mo Farah CBE and Tara Pollock (BT Enterprise). Credit: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

Big night: At the NI Chamber’s President’s Banquet are Paul Murnaghan (President ,NI Chamber), Sir Mo Farah CBE and Tara Pollock (BT Enterprise). Credit: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

Big night: At the NI Chamber’s President’s Banquet are Paul Murnaghan (President ,NI Chamber), Sir Mo Farah CBE and Tara Pollock (BT Enterprise). Credit: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

Northern Ireland must free itself from “the dead hand of political division” if its economy is to thrive, a business leader has said.

Paul Murnaghan, the president of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the region had strong potential but was held back by its history.

He added that dual market access, under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, presented businesses with a unique opportunity.

Speaking at the chamber’s annual president’s banquet at the ICC Belfast, he explained: “In terms of Brexit and the resulting protocol, there were undoubtedly serious challenges for some from the start, and of course there are still issues remaining.

“But I’m an optimist, and I’d like to try and focus on optimism and opportunity. We have been guided by our members, 70% of which believe that Northern Ireland’s unique status presents opportunities for the region.

“I really believe we are at the starting blocks for what could be a unique opportunity.”

Mr Murnaghan claimed that while Northern Ireland had many of the ingredients for success, such as talent, creativity and innovation, the economy was still punching below its weight.

“It has remained static for too long, held still by the dead hand of political division, seeing eternal obstacles, not opportunities,” he said.

“To put it bluntly, if this place was a business, we would more than likely be out of business.

“Across Northern Ireland, we still see pockets of unacceptable deprivation where, for too long, people have struggled to access opportunities to work, to up-skill and to access basic services that most of us take for granted.

“To really capitalise on the opportunities, we need to re-imagine Northern Ireland’s position in the world as a global centre of creativity, innovation and prosperity, whilst prioritising a diverse and inclusive society.”

He said a focus on education and health would benefit the economy, and that the independent review of education was an opportunity to emphasise the importance of reconciliation.

Mr Murnaghan also told the audience that improving citizens’ health should be a priority for the entire Executive.

“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, 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.

“You can be assured that we in the business community will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with public sector colleagues.

“[Northern Ireland needs to] shake off the shackles of the past.

“We need to see our businesses, our political leaders, our communities all working together, focused on what unites us, in the best interests of Northern Ireland.”

The event featured long-distance runner and Olympic medallist Mo Farah, who was interviewed by host Craig Doyle.

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The theme for the chamber’s banquet was ‘moving forward together’.


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