Good afternoon everyone. I would like to wish you all a warm welcome to our Derry/Londonderry Chamber’s President’s Annual Lunch.

I’d like to start first by extending a welcome to some of our special guests this afternoon.

The Minister for the Economy Conor Murphy MLA; the Chair for Tourism NI, Elvena Graham; the US consul General James Applegate; the Mayor of Derry and Strabane Cllr Patricia Logue; our MLAs; our colleagues from key NI business organisations and trade bodies and fellow Chambers of Commerce; and a warm welcome also to today’s other panellist Aedin McCarter.

It’s a great privilege to welcome you all to the City Hotel on the banks of the Foyle and I would like to start by thanking the hotel and their fantastic staff in anticipation of their renowned hospitality.

It is wonderful to see so many of our Chamber members with us once again and to be connecting with friends and colleagues old and new.

Before we begin today’s proceedings, I would like to pay special tribute to our headline sponsor this afternoon – AIB Merchant Services – for their invaluable support today, without which this afternoon would not be possible.

I would also like to highlight my chosen charity for the year and encourage you all to give generously during today’s raffle, Arc Fitness. ARC is a local Derry-based organisation who have developed a unique approach in supporting individuals with substance use disorders, to get and stay on the road to recovery through physical activity, professional support and education and community.



My theme this year as President, and the theme of today’s lunch, is the celebration of place.

Last year, the Department for the Economy asked for responses on the theme of place. The response this Chamber submitted then remains our statement of ambition.

The return of the Assembly has brought with it the political stability, that business and wider society so badly needs. It is important that that stability proves to be long-term. Stability is the foundation stone on which our present economic opportunity is predicated on, that opportunity being our unique dual market access and the all-island economic potential which the Minister has spoken passionately about in recent weeks.

Derry, with its cross-border location, is uniquely positioned to contribute in a major way to both these opportunities.

The Minister has also helpfully outlined as part of his wider economic strategy his four main areas of focus:

  • Increasing the proportion of workers in ‘good jobs’;
  • Promoting regional economic balance;
  • Raising Northern Ireland’s chronically low productivity; and
  • Reducing carbon emissions.

The Minister has stated there will also be focus on small, locally owned enterprise similar to the assistance provided by Enterprise Ireland in the Republic and that is also very much welcomed by this Chamber.

This clear statement of his goals has given much needed focus to all our efforts.

In particular, the theme of regional development is much needed and welcomed by our Chamber. The pronouncements made by the Minister and by the First Minister on the need to develop the North West in particular, is doubly welcome, and we look forward to working with his department and other vested stakeholders in co-designing specific solutions for this region.

This place is unique. Often, when speaking to officials, they will nod in agreement but then follow up with statements which in effect say that every place says they are unique. We in Chamber would challenge that.

If you stand back and look at it objectively, it is clear that this is the region outside of the M1 Economic corridor with a combination of the following assets: a scalable metropolitan population of 450,000 people; a region indeed highlighted by both this Executive and by the Irish Government which requires direct intervention; a cross-border region with two universities in Ulster University in Derry and Atlantic Technological University in Letterkenny; it is also the only other urban region outside of Belfast that has a game changing City Deal and all the potential that can bring by leveraging the multiplier effect of much needed private sector investment.

We are also a region with a port with a large land bank with the potential for green investment which can help co-design solutions to contribute to the Executive’s targets on net zero. We are a region with a power station based at Coolkeragh, a site at which its owners ESB have plans to develop a green hydrogen hub to help exploit offshore wind energy. The north west Atlantic coast offshore wind resource is recognised as amongst the best wind energy available globally.

We also have our regional City of Derry Airport, and we welcome the recent announcement by the Minister for Infrastructure to underpin the vital Heathrow link. It is important that our Executive continue to recognise the strategic economic importance of the airport and we wish ongoing discussions around the Dublin air link and longer-term funding of City of Derry Airport, well.

Derry is also the only border-located UNESCO learning city in these islands.

We at Chamber are also working with both main sponsors Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal Council along with Catalyst and ATU on a highly innovative cross-border international regulatory super cluster, supported by our valued partners in the City of London. The first stage application is currently with the Shared Island Fund. This is a clear example of ambition and innovation and local co-design.

It would be remiss of me not to also mention the key role being played by North West Regional College. From skills academies for many of the investors to the city (including our own FinTrU academies) to an ever-increasing apprenticeship offer, NWRC, with over 10,000 students, is an engine in this region. Their work in the Business Support Centre leads the way with regional innovation hubs in food technology, assisted living, industry 4.0, augmented reality work, helping to innovate our local SME sector. As well as being a university city, we need to aspire to be an apprenticeship city building skills for all and leaving no one behind or excluded. economic inclusion is key to our success. 

I wish to commend the unique cross-border work in the North West among our tertiary education partners UU, ATU, NWRC, and Donegal Education and Training Board. They are a shining light for joined-up cross-border working on skills and innovation.

We are also pleased to see local organisation the AMP included as one of the four partners in the Minister’s recent announcement of the Founders Programme for early-stage tech start-ups. The growing tech start-up sector in the North West is a vital piece of our growing technology ecosystem.

Our ask

We at Derry Chamber over the past 12 months have consistently made the case that Derry/Londonderry and the wider North West region should be recognised by all government departments as Northern Ireland’s main regional city and not classified as one of 11 councils or among a number of sub-regions.

We recognise that presently we have a three-year window with the current Executive’s mandate, and we are currently working with the Council, the university, the college and Foyle Port on those important shorter-term asks. We welcome the inclusive language of co-design, and we look forward to working with the Minister and his department on the design of tailored solutions for the North West.

The Minister has already evidenced his commitment to co-design with the very welcome announcement last week of the creation of a UU Magee task force under the chair of Stephen Kelly to help deliver the 10,000 students promised under New Decade New Approach, this is fundamental to our economic ecosystem in the North West.

We look forward to working with the new chief executive Kieran Donoghue of INI and John Healy their new chair as they roll out the strategy for INI which has promised regional balance as a core part of its objectives both in FDI small local businesses and start-ups.

We at Derry Chamber, recognising the need to think regionally, have signed Memorandums of Understanding with our cross-border neighbouring chamber in Letterkenny and, more recently, with our neighbours at Causeway Chamber. We understand the need to think co-operatively and co-design solutions to achieve our common regional ambitions and challenges. The tourism potential for the joining up the Wild Atlantic Way, this historic, culturally rich city and the famous Causeway Coast is a clear example where co-operation and co-design just make good business sense.

There is a need for longer-term planning for the North West region if it is to fully unleash the latent regional economic powerhouse potential. The Minister has already recognised that planning for this needs to be cross-departmental. Our message is: Derry is not a problem to be solved, it is part of the solution.

What matters now is action, not just vision, in developing regional strategic priorities for the North West, with this being linked to an agreed Executive-wide Programme for Government and budget. Delivery mechanisms and momentum will be the central focus of our engagement with the departments.

Clearly, economic growth is an interdependent mission that will only be achieved through partnership, across departments and between business and policymakers. 

We support the Minister’s demand that the funding cuts in his budget are damaging to the Department’s ability to take advantage of the opportunities they are currently presented with.

An example of that is the need to replace the lost EU funding, which has left an £18 million gap in the Department’s Apprenticeship Programme.

Also on the capacity side, we are glad to see the recognition the Executive has made of the cost of childcare issue in Northern Ireland. Affordable childcare is another component that needs addressed if we are to unleash our full potential.

We are all very aware of the challenges faced by the Department of Health and the Department of Education, but the economy is part of the medium- and longer-term solution; now is not the time to cut on investing in it. We all wish the Finance Minister well in her negotiations with the Exchequer in getting the fiscal floor issue right for all departments.


Tomorrow [March 29] is the 26th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. We all know that we have lost a lot of time since then with our well documented issues that have hindered our progress.

We in the North West recognise the prize that is at stake under this Executive to start realising some of the dreams that were generated by that historic day.


As I conclude, I would like to take this opportunity to also thank our corporate partners: Find Insurance; AIB Merchant Services; Allstate NI; Benchmark; FinTrU; North West Regional College; Seagate; Translink; and Ulster University

And our corporate patrons: Caldwell & Robinson; CBPES; Inner City Trust; Moore Northern Ireland; RiverRidge; SONI; and Unit7. Their continued support is absolutely vital to the work we do here at the Chamber.

And to thank again our headline sponsor for this afternoon: AIB Merchant Services.

2024 can be a year of real and positive change for the North West with the opportunities that are now presented. We must all do our bit to realise them.

Our place is unique and should be cherished and celebrated. We are a vibrant and growing community of innovation and resilience.

Our vision at the Chamber is clear: we have a strong entrepreneurial spirit here in Derry and we’ve faced challenges and issues headfirst throughout the past decades. Businesses here are resilient and a constant source of inspiration.

We are a region that has growing confidence and ambition, we support each other as we work hard to improve our region, and we will fully engage, and no doubt at times challenge, the Executive departments in our shared aim of fully delivering for all the amazing people of this PLACE.