This election must finally deliver for Derry and NW: Chamber President
As I write this column, I can’t help but note the 24th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and the prosperity and optimism it heralded back in 1998. Contrast that with the current political inertia as we approach another election in Northern Ireland and it’s hard not to feel slightly frustrated.
At a recent series of engagements with the leaders of the five largest parties, facilitated by our colleagues at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, I secured commitment from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Michelle O’Neill, Naomi Long, Doug Beattie, and Colum Eastwood on a host of important issues for the North West. I’m also looking forward to our own Chamber’s pre-election economic hustings on Friday 29th April in association with Ulster University, where five local candidates will have an opportunity to lay out their ideas for the North West and what they plan to do if elected.
While it’s all well and good making commitments while electioneering, the real proof will be in the pudding. It’s what is delivered for the North West that we will judge our local elected representatives on. And while the more cynical of us will argue that politicians will say whatever they think you want to hear at election time, I am more optimistic. I believe there is a collective recognition of what Derry and the North West needs – and deserves – as we approach a new Assembly mandate.
Political and business leaders, as well as our local communities, are well versed in Derry’s key asks ahead of polling day. Crucial infrastructure and capital investment projects like the completion of the A5 upgrade works and improved rail provision across our region. The expansion of Ulster University’s Magee campus to at least 10,000 students so we can maximise the benefits of being a proper university city, like other cities and large towns across the island of Ireland. The long-term financial sustainability of the City of Derry Airport. Doing even more to market our region as a leading location for inward investment for sectors as varied as fintech, health and life sciences, and cyber security.
However, all of this is only possible if an Executive is formed after the election and new ministers are appointed. A recent survey of Chamber members found that a huge 92% of respondents believe that local business would be harmed if an Executive remained absent after 5th May. I stressed to all five political leaders recently the importance of forming a government as quickly as possible after polling day, a sentiment echoed by no shortage of business leaders across Northern Ireland. Businesses are acutely aware of how vital political stability is in attracting investment, setting the foundations of a strong economy, and providing stable, well-paid jobs.
This Easter, it’s time to reclaim and rejuvenate the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, and the optimism and prosperity it promised to bring to Northern Ireland. It’s vital that all candidates, regardless of party or ideology, commit to delivering for the North West and working collaboratively across party lines to do so. Progress is only brought about with a fully functioning Executive and Assembly in place. At a minimum, this is what we must see our MLAs to commit after 5th May.
Aidan O’Kane is president of Derry’s Chamber of Commerce.