The President of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) has stressed the need for more of the same ‘collaborative vision’ that saw industries grow following the Good Friday Agreement.
Addressing over 500 guests from business and politics at the NI Chamber Annual President’s Lunch at Belfast City Hall, on Friday, John Healy commented: “We need action on the economy, on infrastructure, on health - addressing the drastic shortage of clinical nurses, for example - or on education; the drift of our talented students to universities across the water or how we face issues like numeracy and literacy levels.
“However, we should be heartened by the fact that our politicians are now talking. That’s a welcome step forward.
“But after two years without movement of any kind, we shouldn’t expect results in a hurry.
“Nevertheless, they mustn’t waste time. So much is at stake if they don’t want history to look back on this period and say – they promised so much but delivered so little. My advice would be don’t give up, don’t let a difficulty today ruin the vision for tomorrow. We in business and industry will give you all the encouragement you need.”
He had words of encouragement too for business leaders, whose innovation and resilience are shaping the province for a prosperous future:
“Our firms are facing a future which could see some of the biggest changes to the business environment in over a generation – but they’re not sitting on their hands, waiting for something to happen.
“Northern Ireland has the potential to be a powerhouse, a place where civic society is making a difference, where the economy is growing, where our businesses are expanding and where we’re as successful at attracting FDI as we are at attracting tourists.
“By the end of this year, we’ll have seen a record 151 cruise ships coming into Belfast Harbour – that’s 36 more than last year – bringing 285,000 visitors to sample what we have to offer. That wasn’t happening 21 years ago.
Mr Healy referred to the development of Catalyst, formerly the Northern Ireland Science Park.
“Twenty one years ago, that didn’t exist.
“Now it’s the home of 200 companies, employing 3000 people across four locations and generating salaries of more than £115m.
“The Science Park was conceived through funding that derived from the Good Friday Agreement, boosted by UK Government economic initiatives. It brought our universities and the business community together in a shared vision of growth and prosperity.
“And we need more of that collaborative vision today. We need to keep building.”
He also commented that Northern Ireland’s bid “as a serious contender” to host the WCC (World Chambers Congress) in 2023 is an “excellent example of the power of partnership, with NI Chamber enjoying the support and backing of the entire Chamber network across the UK and Ireland”.
Attendees at the annual lunch also heard from former head coach to the Irish national rugby team, Eddie O’Sullivan and Gaelic football legend Pat Spillane during a question and answer session hosted by broadcaster, Holly Hamilton.