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All-island economy must be protected – Ibec-CBI Northern Ireland Joint Business Council

The Ibec-CBI Northern Ireland Joint Business Council (JBC), the voice of business across the island of Ireland, today said the protection and further development of the all-island economy was key to the economic future of Ireland and Northern Ireland and must not be undermined in any way. 

At the JBC’s ‘All-island Economy Conference’ in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dundalk, businesses from SMEs to multinationals and a wide variety of sectors operating across the island discussed the acute challenge of Brexit to established economic relations and their successful business models.

Ibec-CBI Northern Ireland Joint Business Council

The conference heard evidence from many of these companies as to how the potential impact of Brexit is not confined to issues around ‘customs and controls’ vital as they are. It also has the potential to impact, especially in a no deal scenario, on the multiple interconnected and cost-effective ways that businesses operate on an all island basis. The impact will be felt on the labour market, R&D, energy markets and investment.

The current smooth functioning of the all-island economy is vital to future investment, job creation and economic prosperity. The JBC highlighted a range of all-island priorities that are needed to better connect Ireland and Northern Ireland, including:

  • Transport connectivity: Both jurisdictions need to invest much more in infrastructure. The upgrade of the inter-urban road network is urgently needed.
  • More and better public transport provision: The capacity and quality of integrated all-island public transport networks must be a priority, including an upgrade of the Belfast-Dublin rail service.
  • Skills: To maximise the value of the shared labour market, more collaboration between the Expert Group on Future Skills in Ireland and the NI Skills Expert Group is needed. A much greater understanding of skills demand across the island is needed to inform future policy decisions. 
  • Greater cooperation on climate change: A new and comprehensive all-island approach is required to meet climate target and take advantage of the economic opportunities that will arise.
  • Energy: The urgent delivery of the North South interconnector is needed to take full advantage of the Single Energy Market

The Ibec/ CBI Joint Business Council said the all-island economy between Ireland and Northern Ireland is an efficiently functioning ‘natural economic zone’. However, it warned that Brexit puts this at risk.  As well as protecting what we have developed over the last 20 years, policy makers and businesses must not lose sight of the future potential that has yet to be unlocked for business and citizens in both jurisdictions as the all-island economy develops further. 

Ibec CEO Danny McCoy said: “Over the last two decades, Ireland and Northern Ireland have developed an all-island economy that has benefited business in terms of improved scale and greater efficiencies. It is vital that this continues. Any new Brexit-related trade barriers would greatly undermine the benefits that have accrued from maintaining an invisible border. They would create major difficulties and disruptions for integrated ‘just in time’ manufacturing and supply, with SMEs particularly exposed.

CBI Northern Ireland Director Angela McGowan said: “As a small peripheral economy, Northern Ireland must absolutely make the most of all trade opportunities available to it, that means both North-South and East-West. At this crucial time, the business community has a responsibility to stay focused on our long-term ambition to deliver greater economic prosperity for all. 

“A no deal Brexit presents a huge challenge to maintaining an economic relationship that has driven growth, created jobs and secured peace in Northern Ireland for decades – we must do everything we can to safeguard that success. The proposals in the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday cannot be the final destination for a solution to the Irish border question as firms both North and South would be hamstrung by friction on both sides. The need for further, urgent dialogue continues,” concluded Ms McGowan.