Taoiseach Enda Kenny has urged Northern Ireland business people to "not be shy" in promoting the cause of the UK remaining within the European Union.
The EU has been a "significant force for good" for people in Northern Ireland, Mr Kenny told the 50th anniversary Confederation of British Industry gala dinner in the Ramada Hotel in Belfast last night.
“The implications of a British exit from the EU for Northern Ireland would be the most profound issue that the North would have to deal with in the coming years,” he warned.
Mr Kenny said the EU had been beneficial for the North economically and politically, while acknowledging there were "deep reservations" in Britain and Northern Ireland about Europe. "My Government is only too aware that there are concerns, felt deeply by many in the UK, including in Northern Ireland, about the direction and focus of the union," he said.
“We know too – as do many other member states – that some of these will need to be addressed if we are to create an environment in which the UK feels comfortable within the union,” he added. “The
shares many of these concerns and we also want them addressed. And we look forward to working with the British government – where we can – to make that happen.”
Mr Kenny continued, “The workings of the EU may not be perfect. It has its faults and its limitations. It frustrates all of us at one time or another. But the positive impact it has had on Northern Ireland, our economies and the British-Irish relationship has been nothing less than transformative. Let’s work together on reforming the EU and let the EU then continue working for us, as it always has done.”
He added, “I hope that the majority of the business community here agrees with me when it comes to the importance of EU membership for the Northern Irish economy. And so, I ask that you not be shy in making your voices heard.”
On the political front, Mr Kenny called on politicians to make the stalled Stormont House Agreement a reality. “Developments in recent weeks saw the first significant challenge, on the issue of welfare reform. The people of Northern Ireland deserve comprehensive solutions to the challenges before them, and it is the task of political leaders to provide this. If we have learned anything it is that the world will not wait for those that are focused on the past. We need to look to the future, its challenges and opportunities together.”
The Taoiseach told the CBI dinner that in the South there would be “no return to boom and bust”. “That is why, next month, in a spring economic statement, we will set out the pathway to be followed in the years ahead . . .” he said.
Director-general of the CBI John Cridland said the North's medium-sized businesses, which generate more than £16 billion and employ 15 per cent of the workforce, must "stand up and be counted". He said businesses and politicians must work together to "unleash the potential of Northern Ireland's medium-sized businesses ".
Northern Ireland’s economy is expected to go grow by 2.2 per cent this year – its strongest performance since the financial crisis began, according to latest forecasts. New research by Danske Bank shows it has revised growth forecasts up to 2.2 per cent from 2.1 per cent for both 2015 and 2016. According to Danske Bank’s
Quarterly Sectoral Forecast
report there is strong evidence of the recovery in the North – almost 20,000 jobs were created last year.