The lack of a functioning executive in Stormont could be detrimental to business in the North West, warns Derry Chamber of Commerce chairman Aidan O’Kane.
The uncertainty created by the DUP over whether or not it would serve in an executive with a Sinn Féin prime minister at its helm, according to O’Kane, would tell foreign investors that “Northern Ireland is not open for business”.
If the DUP’s posturing leads to the collapse of the new executive before it even begins, then direct government from London awaits – and a stagnant Northern Irish economy with it.
O’Kane hopes that common sense will prevail and that a consensus can be found for the new executive to begin – and complete – their full term.
He said: “For the executive to collapse before it has even started would not be ideal. What we need is for the executive to come back as soon as possible.
“There are too many things affecting business and affecting people’s lives right now for a period of stagnation to exist.
“We would call for a return to the executive and its training as soon as possible – however the end result plays out.
“The fact is that without functioning local government and functioning local institutions, Northern Ireland would effectively be saying ‘we are not open for business’.
“When potential investors are wondering where to locate, this is one of the things at the top of their list: how businesses are supported and work with local authorities.
“It comes down to simple things like decision making, having support structures in place, how the skills and talent pool is supported through education – those things are really important for businesses.
“They are looking at where to settle and they are looking at the long term. They don’t plan to come in, settle down for a year and leave again.
“This is not the type of foreign direct investment we want to attract. We want to attract companies like Allstate and Seagate that want to be part of the local economy and be here long term.
“Having a functioning government is the key ingredient for this. As a member of the business community, we call on parties that can form the executive to do so immediately. »
O’Kane admits that if an executive was not formed, it would be detrimental to all businesses in Derry – especially the town’s smaller start-ups.
He added: “The business environment in Derry is about to get great. We have potential here for city growth deals, for further direct investment – we are a very attractive proposition when it comes to gaining access to the European and UK markets.
“Our industry in Derry, which is quite diverse – we have established global businesses, but we also have those on the other side of the spectrum starting up.
“As president of the Chamber of Commerce, I have spoken with these companies on both ends of the spectrum and the ones that will be most affected are the start-ups.
“Start-ups and scale-ups are the most dependent on government strategy to support their growth. They rely on further and higher education colleges – particularly the North West Regional College and the University of Ulster – as key pieces of their economic puzzle.
Derry and the North West have had a difficult relationship with Invest NI – which aims to boost business and jobs across the North.
Many prominent figures have accused Invest NI of being “allergic to Derry” with accusations that the body favors Belfast in terms of investment and jobs.
However, O’Kane warned that the situation would deteriorate even further if an executive at Stormont could not be formed.
He continued, “Invest NI’s role has been somewhat challenging in the past with respect to regional goals.
“What we need from a body like Invest NI are regional targets that ensure that Derry is given special attention in terms of tackling regional imbalance.
“Invest NI comes under the Ministry of Economy. To align it with this ministry which would not have a minister in place after the elections would be disastrous.
“While Invest NI is not realizing its full potential, certainly not in relation to what Derry wants them to be, without any executive in place to run this institution, this is going to be extremely damaging to Derry and the North- West.”