Northern chamber of commerce celebrates 230th anniversary


THE NORTHERN Ireland Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 230th anniversary last night with a gala dinner at the new Titanic Belfast building in east Belfast addressed by Irish rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll.

Some 800 people from across Northern Ireland and beyond gathered for the first such business event in Belfast’s newest landmark building, where the focus was on looking to improved economic times ahead.

The keynote speaker was O’Driscoll. Also present were Northern Secretary Owen Paterson, PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott, Belfast lord mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile and Northern Executive Ministers Danny Kennedy, David Ford, Nelson McCausland and Stephen Farry.

The chamber pulled out all the stops to mark the anniversary: not only was O’Driscoll the chief speaker, but the main entertainment was provided by international jazz singer Jamie Cullum.

O’Driscoll said there were many parallels between sport and business from a leadership and teamwork point of view. He praised Northern business people, saying their experience of adversity over the past 40 to 50 years provided them with “an incredible resilience”, which should set them up to get over the downturn.

O’Driscoll said he noted that people in the North showed greater courtesy and respect than people in the South. He gave an example of how, at a rugby camp in Northern Ireland, he was asked politely for his autograph by children during a signing session.

This compared with a Leinster signing session, when he was often peremptorily instructed to “sign dat” by children. When he asked what the “magic word” was, he was told, “Dat!”.

O’Driscoll also said he intended playing international rugby for another eight years, although some in the audience detected a possible smile.

The chamber’s chief executive, Ann McGregor, suggested that the popularity of last night’s event demonstrated an emerging optimism within the Northern Ireland business community.

“The current business agenda tends to be very much dominated with doom and gloom but, despite facing some of the most challenging times on record, there is a sense of cautious optimism emerging among Northern Ireland companies,” she said.

The president of the chamber, Francis Martin, said the organisation was guided by the same objectives set when it was established in 1782. He said more than 1,000 businesses were now in the chamber and it was “truly representative of the scale and profile of business in Northern Ireland”.

He said the chamber was focused on the future growth of the economy and on community development. “Our policy work and professionally delivered services are designed to assist companies here to develop skills, knowledge and experience that will enhance their overall capability and ability to compete for and win business, particularly in markets outside Northern Ireland.”