North has ‘unique opportunity’ due to Brexit, says business chief

Northern Ireland well positioned with access to EU single market and UK internal market

Paul Murnaghan, the head of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, delivered a keynote speech to business and political leaders at a dinner in Belfast on Thursday. Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

Paul Murnaghan, the head of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, delivered a keynote speech to business and political leaders at a dinner in Belfast on Thursday. Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

 

Northern Ireland is “at the starting blocks of what could be a unique opportunity” due to Brexit, according to the president of the North’s Chamber of Commerce.

Paul Murnaghan, the head of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, delivered a keynote speech to business and political leaders at a dinner in Belfast on Thursday.

Mr Murnaghan said that while there were “undoubtedly serious challenges for some from the start” due to Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol “and of course there are still issues remaining”, he was an “optimist” and 70 per cent of the chamber’s members “believe that Northern Ireland’s unique status presents opportunities for the region.”

The North has access to both the EU single market and the UK’s internal market due to the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement which avoided a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

Unionists oppose to the protocol because they say it places an economic barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and claim it changes its constitutional status within the union.

‘Best interests of NI’

Mr Murnaghan said the North had “so many of the ingredients required for economic success” but nevertheless “punches well below its weight economically” and called on businesses, political leaders and communities to “focus on what unites us in the best interests of Northern Ireland”.

He also said the business community would “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with public sector colleagues” taking “hard decisions” in order to transform health and education in the North.

“Northern Ireland has remained static for too long, held still by the dead hand of political division – seeing eternal obstacles, not opportunities. To put it bluntly, if this place was a business, we would more than likely be out of business,” he said.

“Across Northern Ireland, we still see pockets of unacceptable deprivation, where, for too long, people have struggled to access opportunities to work, to up-skill and to access basic services that most of us take for granted.

“To really capitalise on the opportunities, we need to reimagine Northern Ireland’s position in the world as a global centre of creativity, innovation and prosperity, whilst prioritising a diverse and inclusive society.”