Politicians must stretch themselves to find common ground not division

This year, in a remarkable set of calendar coincidences, almost half the population of the planet will go to the polls to cast their votes for the person or party they feel is most closely representative of their views, values and ambitions.
Roger Pollen, Head of FSB in NIRoger Pollen, Head of FSB in NI
Roger Pollen, Head of FSB in NI

There will be change in some places, and continuation of the status quo in others, but whatever the eventual result, the contests will undoubtedly see division and perhaps conflict, as the essence of differences is distilled and promoted as the very reason for choosing one over another. For the victors who genuinely have the interests of all their people at heart, the challenge that follows is to reduce the sense of conflict, to find common ground, and to bring their country back together again.

For businesses in Northern Ireland, there is no shortage of uncertainty arising from politics and from the expected electoral contests; but in that context there is a real need for politicians to stretch themselves to find their common purpose.

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The absence of Stormont, a General Election in the UK, elections south of the border, changes in the European Commission, all mean that there will be an inevitable ramping up of divisions in places that have a very direct bearing on people and prosperity in Northern Ireland.

Notwithstanding, there is a fragility in our affairs that demands a wisdom and generosity of spirit that is sadly often lacking in party politics, and we must encourage all those who seek our vote to consider the seriousness of the bigger picture.

In the most successful outfits in team sports, there is fierce competition between players on the same team to secure their places but, once they have prevailed, the common good re-emerges and they unify in pursuit of the bigger goal. So it must be with politics. We have a litany of challenges – from providing redress to businesses for the flooding that happened last autumn, to delivering much more efficient and well-resourced public services, to overcoming the myriad issues presented by the implementation of the Windsor Framework, to growing our private sector – and all of these will be better addressed by encouraging and fostering cooperation amongst and between our political parties.

So, while we all want parties to contest elections vigorously we should urge them to avoid damaging and demeaning conflict that sours the environment we will have to navigate afterwards.

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Some of the most enduring and successful policies that have emerged from Stormont this century have been those that have had broad-based political support. One such example is an oddly named process called ‘Industrial De-rating’ - which simply means that those businesses which are engaged in manufacturing and which do so much to create employment and provide exports for Northern Ireland, don’t have to pay the whole of their punitive business rates bill.

This wise policy has secured cross party support in Stormont for many years and has been a bastion of our successful business base.

As a lobbying organisation, FSB identifies many such areas where policy at Stormont or Westminster can assist our businesses and works to build the evidence base necessary to establish and sustain broad-based coalitions of supportive parties so that the resultant policy can endure.

Getting political agreement on issues such as properly funded childcare, prompt payment of invoices, affordable business rates, and so much more is vital to creating the dynamic economy that every single one of us needs to see if we are to build and sustain a prosperous and successful Northern Ireland.

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Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation”. In a year with so many electoral challenges, achieving this may be a stretch, but the spirit of King’s proposition is one which would stand us all in good stead if we strive for it ourselves and demand it of all our political representatives.