Businesses in Northern Ireland need a fully-functioning Stormont Assembly and Executive to fulfil their truest potential, the president of the region’s Chamber of Commerce has said.
Cathal Geoghegan made the remarks to more than 900 business and political leaders at an event in Belfast as Stormont continues to be effectively collapsed.
Senior civil servants have been leading government departments with limited powers since the DUP withdrew their ministers in February 2022 in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The DUP remains in talks with the UK government over the Northern Ireland Protocol and Windsor Framework, which it regards as planning a border in the Irish Sea.
Mr Geoghegan spoke of frustration at the stalemate, and said a fully-functioning, stable Executive is “our most urgent priority”, but emphasised it must be one that lasts.
“Tackling Northern Ireland’s fiscal challenges is the region’s greatest opportunity to ensure stability through public sector and societal transformation for decades to come,” he said.
“The most recent budget set by the Secretary of State was uncomfortable reading but without discussion and answers about how Northern Ireland is funded from Westminster, it is a challenge we will face on repeat.
“At NI Chamber, we have long argued that a restored Executive must not only be capable of making tough decisions, but it must also be sustainably funded, recognising the issue of need.”
He went on: “It’s frustrating that for yet another year, at this time, indeed on this stage, we must ask ‘when do we get our government back?’
“We are fast approaching 650 days without an Executive – that’s a milestone no-one in this room wants to see. Because for all of us, that’s vital time lost for decisions about spending and overdue reforms on health, climate change, planning and so much more.
“As we’ve repeatedly stressed, a fully-functioning, stable Executive is our most urgent priority. But we must be clear, we want an Executive that lasts, that takes tough decisions and delivers on its priorities.”
Addressing representatives of the five largest political parties in Northern Ireland at the black-tie event in the International Convention Centre (ICC), Mr Geoghegan proposed a partnership approach to the in-tray of waiting issues.
He said he wanted to help ministers “move beyond defining problems, to designing solutions”.
“The membership of NI Chamber, the leadership represented here tonight, is an unrivalled resource and it’s ready to start co-designing and co-delivering on workable, innovative new ideas, right now,” he said.
“Whatever the challenges, I know that our members will remain confident and resilient. Our companies are agile and ambitious and quick to adapt to changing circumstances. They want the growth of Northern Ireland to continue. They want our global impact to expand.
“But be under no doubt we need a restored and renewed Executive with a clear ambition for boosting economic growth if our businesses are really going to realise their true potential.”