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Optimism and positivity the watchwords for 2022

As first appeared in the Derry Journal’s View From the Foyle on Friday 21 January. 

By Aidan O’Kane, President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce. 

After a restful Christmas period, it’s great to be getting back down to business again. At the start of December, I took over the reins of the presidency of the Chamber, a huge personal and professional honour and one I’m excited about getting to grips to over the next 12 months.

2022 is already shaping up to be another very busy year, one in which we hope to put the pandemic and all its awfulness firmly behind us. However, just prior to Christmas, the NI Executive reintroduced some targeted restrictions on businesses in response to the increasing Covid cases, driven primarily by the new Omicron variant.

While it looks like these restrictions may be removed again soon, this move was another reminder that the pandemic is still very much with us for now and continues to pose a challenge for businesses of all kinds. With our district also having some of the highest Covid numbers across the island right now, it’s important that we all do what we can to drive this spike down again, as we have done in the past.

The outlook for the year ahead, however, is one which is optimistic and positive, and we should keep this front and centre in our minds. There are opportunities for the North West, most obviously with the Assembly Election in May. There is a real chance now to put pressure on our local representatives, political parties, and candidates to deliver more for our region. We will be working collaboratively with all parties and candidates over the coming months to get our message across and represent our business community and their asks.

It’s crucial that our new MLAs, no matter who they are and which party they come from, commit to delivering for Derry and beyond. As the largest city in the North West of Ireland and the fourth largest on the entire island, the opportunities should be endless. We have a talented and skilled workforce, a young population, a relatively affordable cost of living, strong educational institutions, and a wonderful quality of life.

While there are, of course, challenges before us, including the rising cost of everything from materials to energy, the climate crisis, and historic regional imbalances which must be addressed, the outlook is positive for the North West. City partners and leaders are focused on the same goal and pulling in the same direction, and there is a palpable sentiment of commitment to seeing the North West’s potential fully unleashed.

There are numerous reasons to be optimistic – the A6 upgrades are expected to be completed by Spring; the roll-out of our £250m City Deal and the impact this will have in creating an economy fit for the future; new foreign direct investment and further job creation; the (hopeful) return of large-scale events like the Clipper Race to our city; and positive moves to ensure greater connectivity from our region across the island with the likes of the All Island Strategic Rail Review, which the Chamber has submitted a joint response to alongside our colleagues in the Letterkenny Chamber.

It’s been an indescribably tough two years. But it’s beginning to feel like the very worst is now behind us. Let’s make 2022 a year to remember, for our businesses, our communities, our people, and our city.