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View from the Foyle: Failure to deliver is dereliction of duty

As appeared in the Derry Journal on 20.05.22. 

“Do politicians actually listen to business leaders?” pondered presenter Mark Carruthers on last week’s episode of The View. In truth, as I tuned into the programme, I was thinking much the same. As I watched my colleague Selina Horshi, who ably represented the Derry Chamber and the North West’s business community, outline the concerns and challenges of local businesses in Derry and beyond, I could only feel frustration, summed up by the presenter’s previous question.

The Assembly’s failure to both appoint a Speaker and a full, functioning Executive will have dire consequences for people, businesses, and households across Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, there’s no other way to put it. The most vulnerable will suffer, those on hospital waiting lists will wait even longer, investment opportunities will be missed which could create jobs and prosperity, and households creaking under the ever-growing weight of the cost-of-living crisis will be put under even more pressure.

The message is stark but simple: our MLAs need to get back to work as soon as possible. Selina summed up the problems and issues facing our businesses right now: Political instability, rising costs, and post-Covid recovery. In a recent Chamber survey before the election, 92% of respondents said the lack of an Executive would harm their businesses and harm trading in Northern Ireland. Only one respondent said the Protocol was seriously challenging their business. While we do not wish to minimise the disruption of the post-Brexit trading arrangements being felt by certain businesses, and we recognise and acknowledge that the grace periods are still in place, it would be disingenuous and misleading to say that it is decimating business in Northern Ireland.

It’s time to deal in facts and realities. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research’s latest quarterly report on the UK’s economic outlook found that Northern Ireland economic output “has slightly outperformed the UK average”, in part, due to the Protocol. The think tank found that the “closer links with the EU, through trade and … labour mobility, have benefited Northern Ireland post-Brexit.” It’s also an indisputable fact that cross-border trade on this island jumped by over £2.3bn in 2021, as revealed by the Central Statistics Office.

Another reality is that the Protocol, with all due respect, will not be resolved by our MLAs. This is an issue which can only and will only be resolved between the EU and the UK. The rest of the country should not suffer while these issues are sorted. The Chamber isn’t blind to the fact that some people hold sincere concerns about the impact of the Protocol, and there are genuine issues which are making doing business more difficult for a small number of companies. These issues can be dealt with through dialogue, collaboration, and good faith negotiation.

In the meantime, there is no mandate for inertia. There is no mandate for inaction. There is no mandate for an absent Executive. People here voted for delivery and for political leadership. Anything less over the coming weeks and months is nothing short of political dereliction of duty.