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Wednesday, August 4, 1999 Published at 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK

Special Report

Business leaders meet new minister

Economy Minister John McFall meeting business leaders

Northern Ireland's new Economy Minister has been meeting business leaders and representatives of the trade union movement.

John McFall has been the province's Health and Education Minister for the last year, but his portfolio was increased in the latest government reshuffle.

This is the first time in Northern Ireland a government minister been responsible for both education and business.

The move has been welcomed by the business community who believe young people in schools do not have proper awareness of the importance of business to the economy.

Mr McFall told BBC Radio Ulster that despite the stalemate in political developments, it was business as usual as far as he was concerned.

"If there are decisions for me to take that require progess, I will not hesitate to take that decision," he said.

First meeting

He said a new Economic Development Programme would be meeting for the first time in a few weeks.

"Whilst we have made progress in Northern Ireland, the economic environment is getting much tougher," he said.

Ciaran Harding, Director of Business in the Community in Northern Ireland believes Mr McFall could now play a key role in bridging the gap between the classroom and the workplace.

"He has a wide range of experience in Northern Ireland. Now there is this unique opportunity to bring those two departments together," he said.

The Federation of Small Businesses previously accused former Economic Development Minister Adam Ingram of ignoring their needs.

Change in attitude

But its director Gwynn Jones has now called for a change in attitude.

"He (Mr McFall) should really start to look at small businesses, take some information from us, ask us for a meeting because Northern Ireland is comprised of over 50% of small businesses," he said.

If the Northern Ireland Assembly had been formed in July the economy would now be in the hands of a locally elected minister.

Get job done

But despite the setbacks, Northern Ireland Tourist Board Chairman Roy Bailie said there was a strong desire to get on with the job.

"I had hoped for the first time that we might be sitting down with an Ulsterman and discussing the issues in the medium and the long term, because we have a lot of problems," he said.

Frank Bunting of the Irish National Teaching Union says Mr McFall is a man who likes to get things done.

"There are obviously direct links between education in schools, between training and between well paid work and he now has his finger on the pulse of all of these things."

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