President Paul Murnaghan addresses Chamber Banquet

The President of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber), Paul Murnaghan has hailed the benefits of dual market access during a key-note speech to an audience of business and political leaders.

Speaking at the 2021 President’s Banquet Paul Murnaghan said: “In terms of Brexit and the resulting Northern Ireland Protocol, there were undoubtedly serious challenges for some from the start and of course there are still issues remaining.

“But I’m an optimist and particularly tonight, I’d like to try and focus on optimism and opportunity. Through the process we have been guided by our members, 70% of which believe that Northern Ireland’s unique status presents opportunities for the region.

“I really believe we are at the starting blocks for what could be a unique opportunity for Northern Ireland.”

Paul Murnaghan

The theme for the event was ‘Moving Forward Together’ and looking to the future Paul Murnaghan said: “Our economy has so many of the ingredients required for economic success. We have exceptional talent, creativity and innovation. We are expanding into industries with enormous growth potential.”

He stressed however, that there is much more to do to deliver prosperity in Northern Ireland, saying: “Unfortunately, Northern Ireland punches well below its weight economically.

“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.

“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 re-imagine Northern Ireland’s position in the world as a global centre of creativity, innovation and prosperity, whilst prioritising a diverse and inclusive society.”

Paul Murnaghan spoke too, about the critical role that education and health have to play in economic performance: “Whilst the proportion of people in employment has risen consistently for six years, high levels of long-term economic inactivity remain. Rather than view this as a problem, could we reimagine this as an opportunity?

“Today, only 7% of our students benefit from an integrated education. The Independent Review of Education is a real chance to ensure that every young person can benefit from a high-quality education, and crucially, with reconciliation at its core.

“We all recognise that poor health, both physical and mental, impacts economic performance as well.  We need to treat health as a precious national asset. This would re-define the health challenge as a collective all-of-government task, not one just for the Department of Health.  The recently announced multi-year budget could provide a catalyst to tackle the causes of physical and mental ill-health, where the whole of Government could deliver a much richer return than the sum of its constituent parts.

“Everyone understands that the benefit of transforming health and education is about improving, not depleting services. Hard decisions are required in order to achieve this. You can be assured that we in the business community will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with public sector colleagues.”

Concluding, Paul Murnaghan had this to say: “Northern Ireland has huge potential. Of course, old problems remain but it’s time for us to shake off the shackles of the past and we must move forward together.

“We need to see our businesses, our political leaders, our communities, all working together focussed on what unites us, in the best interests of Northern Ireland.”

The event was delivered with the support of headline sponsor BT, supporting sponsors Phoenix Natural Gas, Tourism NI and Tughans, as well as drinks reception sponsor Staffline.

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