‘Focus must return to prioritising the economy’

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Northern Ireland’s recent political settlement is a positive development but the focus must now return to prioritising the economy.

That was the message from the President of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) at the annual President’s Banquet at Titanic Belfast last night.

NI Chamber President Stephen McCully addressed over 550 members of the local business community including the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Investment; Social Development and Health, Social Services & Public Safety as well as U.S. Consulate Daniel Lawton and Invest NI Chief Executive Alastair Hamilton. Mr McCully was also joined by BAFTA award winning actor James Nesbitt who provided the dinner’s keynote speech.

Speaking at the event, Mr McCully welcomed the deal to resolve NI’s current political crisis but said it was time to move on the economic agenda.

“Failure this time is not an option – we are already lagging significantly behind our neighbouring economies. But we have so much within our grasp – investors ready to make a commitment to the Province, a business community primed for opportunities to grow and export, and the opportunity to unleash the pent-up potential of our local talent.

“They want to see better political processes in NI that facilitate our local politicians in making timely and confident decisions for the good of the local economy and wider society. They want every aspect of Northern Ireland to reach its full potential.”

Mr McCully also pointed to the wealth of young entrepreneurial talent in the Province whose futures depended on a strong economy and said now was the time to nurture elements which will deliver economic regeneration.

He added: “The business community understands that this is a formidable challenge for everyone.

“It also recognises that there are hard political choices that needs to be made to allow such priorities to be properly resourced.”

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell spoke about the recent corporation tax announcement, he said: “The news of a 12.5 per cent rate will be welcomed by all those in industry. As Enterprise Minister my priority is to create a robust economy built on a strong private sector. The ability to set our own reduced Corporation Tax rate is a vital tool enabling me to do this and one with the potential to put NI on the list of the most attractive investment locations in Europe.”