Belfast Chamber chief hopes to forge business links with Dublin
Former DUP economy minister to lead deleagtion on official visit
Former DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton is the new head of the Belfast Chamber.
A former DUP economy minister intends to start work on establishing stronger business links between Belfast and Dublin when he makes his first official visit to Dublin this week as the new chief executive of Belfast Chamber.
Simon Hamilton, who was also a former finance and health minister in the North, will be part of a delegation from Belfast Chamber who are scheduled to meet with their counterparts in Dublin Chamber on Thursday.
Mr Hamilton, who left politics to take up his new role with the business organisation this month, said he is keen to highlight the “vital trade links” between Northern Ireland and the South during his first visit as chief executive of the industry body which represents more than 400 businesses in Belfast.
The chamber chief said his visit is not taking place because of Brexit or “is any way tokenistic” but because he believes that “it is important to cultivate even closer business links between Belfast and Dublin”.
“There’s a huge amount of trade that flows from Northern Ireland to the south and from the south to Northern Ireland and we want to emphasis out vital that trade link is.
“Latest figures show that there is around £3 billion (€3.4 billion) going from Northern Ireland to the South and around £2 billion from the South to Northern Ireland each year and we want to cultivate even more,” Mr Hamilton said.
Since he took up his position at the beginning of this month the former DUP politician said the key issue that Belfast Chamber members want to talk to him about is Brexit.
“They’re very concerned about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. There is a fear of the unknown, the lack of certainty means they cannot prepare properly for whatever the outcome is going to be.
“Our businesses in Belfast are resilient, they’ve shown their resilience, but they need to know now what to plan for whether it is to do with supply chain, labour or the broader impact that any outcome will have on consumer confidence. They’re pretty clear that what they don’t want is a no deal Brexit,” Mr Hamilton said.
Previously the Belfast Chamber said 78 per cent of its members supported the draft Withdrawal Agreement, which included a ‘backstop’ solution to avoid a hard border on the island.
Mr Hamilton’s first visit to Dublin in his new role will take place against the backdrop of the DUP’s continued opposition to a Northern Ireland only backstop.
He firmly believes that a no-deal Brexit should be avoided at all costs.
“No deal is not an option at this time and it should never be an option in the future because of the potential damage it could to the Northern Ireland economy,” Mr Hamilton said.
He said if the UK leaves the EU it must be “with a business friendly Brexit”.
One of the other key concerns that Mr Hamilton says businesses in Belfast are keen to talk to him about is that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is playing out in the absence of an Executive at Stormont.
“Brexit is a big enough challenge and there is a strong sense that Northern Ireland would stand a better chance if there was an Executive up and running.
“I can understand the frustrations and anger around this because we had made all kinds of progress in Northern Ireland and then it stalled and there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr Hamilton said.
In the meantime he hopes that his first visit to Dublin as chief executive will give him an opportunity to help develop a closer relationship with his counterparts in the South.
“We want to boost business between Belfast and Dublin. I believe there are lot of practical steps we could take to do that by developing closer connections chamber to chamber and also by helping to publicise opportunities that already exist whether it is in supply chains or public procurement chain.
“Our visit this week is just the start, next month the president of Dublin Chamber, Niall Gibbons will be our guest speaker and we’ll continue talking about boosting business between Belfast and Dublin,” he said.