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Remarks by Tánaiste Micheál Martin - Belfast Chamber Annual President’s Lunch

Check Against Delivery

6 April 2023

I am delighted to be with you for the Chamber’s President’s Lunch today. It’s a great turnout here for a Thursday before the Easter Weekend! I want to thank Alana [Coyle] and Simon [Hamilton] for the invitation and for that introduction.

Tomorrow is Good Friday.

That, of course, has a very special resonance in Belfast, particularly this year.

We’ll rightly be hearing a lot more about the 25th Anniversary of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement over the next few weeks.

It’s hugely important that we celebrate the achievement of the Agreement and the peace process.

But that Agreement was always about the future, not the past, and it still is. It remains the foundation for us to build a thriving future for Northern Ireland, the island of Ireland and across these islands.

I know that all of you are focussed completely on the future of your business and of this city. On the next challenge.

That’s as it should be. That’s what we need.

Marking this anniversary, we have to acknowledge how far we’ve come, of course. But first in our minds must be this generation right now, and the next, and what we can do to support an inclusive future of promise and opportunity for them.

Belfast has made enormous strides in the last twenty five years. You can see it in the fabric of the city. It has made a mark on the global stage in industries from Fintech and Cybersecurity to Film and Television production.

But there’s no limit to what Northern Ireland can achieve.

It is hugely welcome that President Biden will visit Ireland, North and South, next week.

This island’s deep bonds with the people of the United States, and in particular that country’s deep bonds with the province of Ulster, is one of our greatest strengths.

The appointment of Joe Kennedy III as the United States Special Economic Envoy is another concrete sign of how we can translate goodwill into deeper economic connections; how affinity can translate into opportunity – benefitting both sides of the Atlantic.

The question for me is how do we unlock that opportunity? How do we set the stage for innovation and inclusive growth?

Of course for the last number of years we have been held back from being able to pursue that agenda, by the need to address and find a sustainable solution for the outworkings of Brexit for Northern Ireland.

But I believe we are now at the opening of a new chapter in the story of this place.

Windsor Framework

I want to take this chance today to acknowledge, and to thank you for, the role Northern Ireland business has played over the course of the last two years in regard to the implementation of the Protocol.

Your voice has been consistent and constructive. You have stayed focussed on practical issues and, importantly, you have established trust.

Your voice has also been heard –by me and my government colleagues in our direct engagement with you, by the Commission and EU Member States, and by London.

The Windsor Framework, agreed through a genuine partnership, between the EU and the UK, is the comprehensive response to the real life, practical concerns raised by businesses and people in Northern Ireland.

The Windsor Framework is also an opportunity to re-energise the British-Irish relationship, which was so crucial to the achievement of the Agreement in 1998 and in the process before and since. We are undoubtedly stronger addressing shared challenges together.

The successful implementation of the Framework is also an opportunity to open up a new chapter in EU-UK relations at a time of pressing global concerns.

Most importantly, however, the Framework is an opportunity for Northern Ireland.

Your message, supported by other stakeholders in civic society, by political representatives, by consumers, was clear and consistent. Northern Ireland needs stability and certainty.

The Windsor Framework provides this. It will allow Northern Ireland business to continue to access the EU Single Market.

It protects Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market, ensuring that the same food and medicines will be available here in Belfast as in Birmingham.

And it gives Northern Ireland’s political representatives and stakeholders a greater say in how the arrangements will apply in the future.

This unique access to both markets is a massive opportunity - to attract investment, create jobs, provide stability and grow the economy. I believe this opportunity needs to be firmly grasped.

Now that the Framework has been formally adopted by the EU and the UK, it is important that it is implemented in good faith and can start delivering for people in Northern Ireland.

The endorsement of the Windsor Framework should provide momentum towards early restoration of all institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

it is incontrovertible that the people of Northern Ireland are best served by their elected representatives returning to the Assembly, forming an Executive and operating fully the North South Ministerial Council. This should happen without delay.

All-island economy

I have been speaking a lot about opportunities but there is one more that we have to seize: the opportunity, the potential, of this island. North and South, we have a talented workforce, excellent universities, a competitive business environment and close proximity to major markets. Building on the stability provided by the Windsor Framework, I and my colleagues across government will continue to work to create an enabling environment for business, to grow cross-border trade and further develop and realise the potential of our all-island economy.

There are endless possibilities for us to continue to deepen business and innovation networks on a North South basis. I know that many of you here today are busy doing just that.

Dublin Belfast Corridor

I want to acknowledge in particular the strong links that have developed between the Belfast Chamber and its counterpart in Dublin.

As the voice of business in the two largest cities on the island, the Dublin and Belfast Chambers together represent almost two thousand businesses, who in turn employ hundreds of thousands of people and contribute hundreds of millions to the economy each year.

Your businesses are the engines of the Dublin Belfast Corridor – the island’s largest economic cluster and an exemplar of our closely integrated all-island economy.

Home to some two million people, the Dublin Belfast Corridor is a key cross-border region that boasts a large, skilled talent pool for employers, excellent national and international connectivity, and world-leading industry and services sectors.

The Corridor already has a strong track record for enterprise and inward investment and has enormous potential for further development.

Realising this potential is a key objective for the Irish Government and features prominently in our National Planning Framework, set out as part of Project Ireland 2040.

It is welcome that the Corridor was given fresh momentum in 2021, with the launch of the Dublin Belfast Economic Corridor initiative by eight local authorities, North and South, to work collectively to drive further development in the region.

The Government wants to do all that it can to catalyse and support the full promise of these cross-border relationships.

Shared Island

Our Shared Island Initiative is central to this aim. I launched the Shared Island Initiative in 2020 to unlock the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement and to deepen economic, social, cultural, and political links across the island.

Through the Shared Island Initiative, we have committed €1 billion through the Shared Island Fund out to 2030. We have allocated €190 million from this Fund to date, to progress key infrastructure projects, but also to support innovative all-island programmes with local authorities, universities, and researchers, among others.

Our Shared Island Dialogue series has facilitated inclusive conversations with all political traditions and communities, and our research series is allowing us to develop a much richer and deeper understanding of opportunities to strengthen connections across the island.

Of course, many elements of the initiative to date have focused on economic cooperation.

For example, one of the 2021 Shared Island Dialogues brought together stakeholders involved in business, enterprise, and innovation to discuss the economic opportunities and challenges facing the island.

Research commissioned through the Shared Island Initiative has examined issues such as cross-border trade in services, foreign direct investment, and all-island productivity levels.

This detailed work has highlighted not only the existing levels of interdependence in our all-island economy, but also the enormous potential for even greater economic cooperation, North and South.

Last year, the Government set new Shared Island priorities, which included a commitment to do more to promote all-island enterprise development.

We want to work in partnership with our counterparts in the Executive to explore and invest in more opportunities in this regard. These opportunities, and the jobs, wealth and security that they can bring to communities in Northern Ireland are yet more reasons to get the institutions back up and running without delay.

In this context, I believe it is vital that businesses, and business organisations, continue to work together to deepen cross-border links, and continue to make the case for prosperity.

I look forward to turning to your questions in a moment.

But finally, let me simply assure you that the Irish Government will continue to support the Chamber, its members, and its partners, as you strive to create an ever more vibrant city, a thriving Northern Ireland and opportunities, partnership and connections across our shared island.

Thank you


Press Office

6 April 2023

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