Stability and certainty are needed

To paraphrase a famous quote, there are decades where nothing happens, and there are months where decades happen. It would be an understatement to say that the last four weeks or so in Northern Ireland have been tumultuous.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 12:55 pm
Dawn McLaughlin, President, Derry Chamber of Commerce

To paraphrase a famous quote, there are decades where nothing happens, and there are months where decades happen. It would be an understatement to say that the last four weeks or so in Northern Ireland have been tumultuous.

The rough and tumble of politics has claimed new and unforeseen victims, we’ve a new First Minister and a reshuffled Executive table, and our largest party is moving on to its third leader in 2021. Let it never be said that local politics is boring.

Away from the political drama, businesses are getting on with reopening and looking towards recovery. The North West has had its fair share of positive news in recent weeks also. A US investor has bought a majority share in local success story Learning Pool, valuing the business at over £150m, with plans to create 100 new jobs.

Craigavon-based pharmaceutical firm Almac has also announced plans to establish a project management and software engineering facility in Derry, creating more than 100 jobs over the next three years.

Local MP Colum Eastwood has also welcomed reports that a US-based fintech company is planning to set up a new office at Ebrington Square, bringing with it 200 new jobs. While not officially confirmed yet, it is optimistic that large foreign investors are looking at the North West as fertile ground from which to grow their business.

Attracting investors like these, with their expertise and the jobs they intend to create, will be crucial in our recovery from the pandemic. I have written before about how the North West is now one of the best-placed locations on the island of Ireland to set up a business.

Recent announcements like these prove my point perfectly.

The North West has a growing international reputation for sectors such as tech, fintech, health and life sciences, AI, robotics, and diagnostics.

At a time of economic insecurity and upheaval, it is a welcome boost for our regional economy to see companies set up base here and create highly skilled, high quality jobs.

Businesses are also getting on with the realities of the Protocol.

Recent figures published by the Irish Government’s Central Statistics Office show that there has been a post-Brexit boom in cross-border trade.

The latest figures show that the value of goods imported from NI to the Republic increased by 60% to over €1bn during the first four months of 2021.

Companies are flexible and agile, and these figures show that they have been quick in realising that the Protocol affords them the opportunity to move goods without friction between the two jurisdictions on this island.

When presented with a challenge, business owners and leaders have found a way around it.

While Brexit has undoubtedly proved difficult in some respects, many businesses have refused to complain and instead have found workable and practical solutions.

However, as has so often been pointed out, the biggest barrier to companies choosing a particular location to set up base – and especially with FDI - is political instability.

If we truly want to build a progressive and forward-thinking economy fit for the new decade and beyond, we need our political leaders to commit to stability.

We would do our economic prospects the world of good if we managed to avoid the frequent concerns around the sustainability of our political institutions and committing to properly working on a cross-party basis to resolve any challenges.

The last thing Northern Ireland businesses and wider society need right now is political crisis.

As we’ve seen with recent news, there are exciting prospects on the horizon for the North West.

It’s hugely important that we all combine our efforts and positive energies to realise these prospects, especially as we emerge from lockdown.

Dawn McLaughlin is President of Derry Chamber of Commerce