Business leaders urge politicians to agree deal to restore Assembly

Conradh na Gaeilge hails ‘historic advancement’ but says proposals fall short

 

Business leaders in Northern Ireland have urged the politicians to restore the North’s power-sharing Assembly as soon as possible by backing the draft deal published by the Irish and British governments late last night.

Irish language advocacy organisation Conradh na Gaeilge said that while the Irish language legislation was “undoubtedly an historic advancement for our community”, the proposals fell short.

“The complete omission of visibility and signage is hugely frustrating and will undoubtedly be a source of tension, and will expose major fault-lines on contested cases of signage in the coming period,” said Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin.

The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, has given her party’s support to the deal. The other four parties are meeting today to consider their responses.

The Speaker of the House, Robin Newton, could reconvene a sitting of the North’s Assembly as early as today if he “hears positively from the parties.”

Trade NI – which represents the industry bodies Retail NI, Manufacturing NI and Hospitality NI – said the parties should “sign the deal today and get the Assembly back up and running.”

It was among a number of business organisations which on Friday urged the North’s politicians to agree the deal.

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce said that “after three years of paralysis, we now have a workable deal that will allow an Executive to start addressing the problems within our health service and education system.

“We therefore encourage the five main political parties to progress it urgently. Business, health and education cannot wait any longer – failure is not an option.”

Concerns

But the Orange Order said it had “very serious concerns” about the draft deal published by the two governments, which it said have been released with a “purposely narrow window for meaningful consideration”.

In a statement, the Order said the draft deal was “clearly far-reaching in its provision for the Irish language and its subsequent future role in the political and civic life of Northern Ireland.

“In contrast to the detailed list of measures to promote the Irish language, references to Ulster Scots/Ulster-British culture are ambiguous - lacking meaningful detail or delivery mechanisms.

“As British citizens living in the United Kingdom, we have a complex and multi-layered identity which in many areas is wider than simply ‘Ulster Scots’.

“We remain unconvinced that the cultural traditions and identity of the Orange family will be meaningfully promoted or safeguarded by these proposals.”

‘Buoyant’

A delegation of civil and business leaders which met the parties on Thursday evening, shortly before the draft text was published by the two governments, said the mood was “buoyant”.

The “coalition of Northern Ireland society”, said Derry businessman Gavin Killeen, had told politicians “this deal needs to be done. This needs to happen, and we’re here to support you.”

The Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, said this was the “best chance to bring the devolved government back to life.

“Our message to the party leaders is clear, we support you in your endeavours and encourage you to get the New Decade, New Approach agreement over the line today.”

Tina McKenzie, Policy Chair with the Federation of Small Businesses NI, said parties should reach agreement “so that we can begin to address the many issues affecting our economy and society.

“The next Executive must move quickly to deliver on the myriad issues which have been left unaddressed for far too long,” she said.

“In order to begin to address these issues, the parties must put pragmatism first and get back around the Executive table.”

The draft text was also welcomed by the North’s Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, who said there was much in the document which was “good for policing”.

“Clearly the support for boosting the strength of the PSNI to 7,500 police officers will be at the heart of our aspiration to invest significantly in community policing across Northern Ireland in the months ahead,” he said.

Legacy investigations

“We welcome plans to reform and streamline our outdated criminal justice processes and also address the issue of legacy investigations which drain our focus on policing the issues of here and now.

“A fresh emphasis on tacking the scourge of paramilitary crime and intimidation, supported by legislation to tackle unexplained wealth, sits four square with our operational priorities.”

The Police Federation said it welcomed “many of the proposals in this draft deal”, particularly the commitment to increase officer numbers to 7,500. However it said it continued to have “serious reservations” about legacy proposals.

Thousands of health workers represented by the Royal College of Nursing and Unison are on strike again in Northern Ireland today in an ongoing dispute over pay and staffing levels.

Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown, said that while there may be some hope of resolution, “we are not there yet.

“We await further developments today at Stormont. Should the political process fail, we will pursue Julian Smith to act in the public interest, make the resources available and instruct the Department of Health to restore pay parity.

“If the money is there, it should be released without delay,” she said. – Additional reporting PA