THE First Minister Designate of Northern Ireland has called on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to return to power-sharing immediately so the region can seize the “unique economic opportunities” before them.
Following a meeting of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, held at Belfast Castle last night, Sinn Féin’s First Minister in waiting, Michelle O’Neill confirmed the “urgent need” for the immediate restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive.
Ms O’Neill highlighted the “unique economic opportunities” now available to Northern Ireland due to the new Windsor Framework Brexit agreement between Britain and the EU.
“This is a time of huge opportunity for our local businesses as the North now has a real competitive economic advantage,” she said.
“The recent deal between the EU and British Government has unlocked unique and unparalleled access for our businesses to both the EU and British markets,” she explained.
The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have been unable to function since May 2022, when, following Sinn Fein’s historic Assembly Election win, the DUP refused to take up its power-sharing roles until their demands on issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol were addressed.
As it stands that refusal continues and the power-sharing government has yet to reform, even with the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on the horizon.
The unfortunate irony was not lost on Ms O’Neill, who urged the DUP to consider the optics of the ongoing political stalemate at a time when the world will be watching Northern Ireland.
“In the weeks ahead, the eyes of the world will be on us as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the enormous interest that will accompany the visit of the US President Joe Biden,” she said.
“We need political stability and a functioning Executive to grasp that major opportunity to create good jobs, grow our businesses and strengthen our economy.
“Alongside seizing the economic opportunities available to us, a restored Executive should adopt three key economic priorities; transforming Invest NI to ensure it works more effectively, tackling skills shortages and making childcare affordable.”
She added: “It would be unforgivable if the opportunities now available to us are squandered by the DUP’s boycott of the Executive and their refusal to work with the rest of us to create jobs and build our economy.
“Public patience has long run out with this delay and uncertainty. They want an Executive now. Our people can’t wait. Our businesses can’t wait and, critically, international investors will not wait.
“It is time to move forward. It is time to work together and to put our shared economic priorities ahead of narrow party political interests or electoral advantage.”