NI still an attractive investment location despite protocol – Foster

David Young, PA

Arlene Foster has insisted Northern Ireland remains a good place to invest in despite the “suffering” inflicted by new Irish Sea trading arrangements.

The First Minister said while she would continue to make the case for the region as an investment location she said she was “not going to be blind” to the issues related to the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol.

On a day when the Stormont Executive published a new post-Covid economic recovery strategy, Mrs Foster was asked at a press conference whether international investors should think twice about locating in Northern Ireland if the problems associated with the arrangements were as dire as she and other unionists were warning.

New checks are required on goods entering Northern Ireland from GB under the terms of the NI Protocol
New checks are required on goods entering Northern Ireland from GB under the terms of the NI Protocol (Niall Carson/PA)

Mrs Foster said Brexit was a “gateway to opportunity” but that the protocol, which has created economic barriers between GB and NI, was preventing Northern Ireland from taking up those opportunities.

“Particularly with our largest market, which of course is the Great Britain market, and caused no end of suffering for many small businesses,” she said.

“So there needs to be a solution found and that’s what I’m focused on doing in terms of the replacement of the protocol.”

Referencing a recent job creation move by accountancy firm PwC in Belfast, Mrs Foster added: “I will never ever talk Northern Ireland down.

“I think that – and that has been recently by PwC confirmed again – that Northern Ireland is a really good place to work, to live, to bring up your family, to invest in. So I will always say that that is the case.

“But you know I’m not going to be blind to the fact that our main market is being stopped from unfettered access at the moment, and we need to sort that out.”

Michelle O’Neill
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA).

Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the region needed to capitalise on another aspect of the protocol – the unfettered access it affords Northern Ireland-based traders to sell into both the UK market and the EU single market.

Ms O’Neill said it was clear from Wednesday’s meeting of the EU and UK at a joint committee set up to implement the protocol that the arrangements were “here to stay”.

“I think what’s really, really important for us as political leaders is to work on making the protocol work,” she said.

“It is here to stay and that was very clear from the joint committee meeting which we had yesterday.

“So I think all sides need to focus on finding solutions, let’s get resolution to the issues where we can.

“I think that’ll be really important to help our local industry to be able to trade into the future and let’s not forget that the protocol provides solutions and mitigation to the worst excess of Brexit and I think that what we have now for our local industry, and needs to be built upon, is the dual access to two markets.”