Page last updated at 13:07 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Will justice deal boost Northern Ireland business?

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson
Business leaders say it's now time to deal with the economy

During the protracted negotiations at Hillsborough, two American companies announced plans to close down their factories in the greater Belfast area.

BBC Northern Ireland's business correspondent Kevin Magee has been assessing the reaction to the deal on policing and justice from the business community and the trade unions.

The Northern Ireland business community has given an enthusiastic welcome to the agreement reached among the main political parties but it has also delivered its own verdict: now concentrate on the state of the economy.

The next few months will see an international investment conference, sponsored and hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Northern Ireland's economy could certainly do with a boost. Last year, the manufacturing industry shed 8,400 jobs - 10% of the total manufacturing base.

Bryan Gray, the chief executive of NI Manufacturing, said he hoped politicians could now focus on the issues that have an immediate impact on people's lives.

"The job losses that we have experienced have been worse than predicted. It is high time the politicians started to address the real issues like the decline of the manufacturing sector and the state of the economy," he said.

We have grown up living with instability and is only when that situation changes that we can talk sensibly about progress
John Simpson

The Institute of Directors also welcomed the agreement, saying it too hoped the Executive could now re-focus on economic issues.

"This will contribute to the image of stability in our political structures, which will in turn impact positively on the confidence of local businesses and external investors in the future of Northern Ireland," an IoD spokesman said.

Seasoned economist and commentator John Simpson said the single most important thing that could happen to help the economy was political stability.

"Put it this way, getting rid of any reputation of instability is the first priority," he said.

"We have grown up living with instability and is only when that situation changes that we can talk sensibly about progress."

Hughes Christensen makes drill bits for the oil and gas industries
As talks continued, drill bit firm Hughes Christensen closed its Belfast plant

During the period of negotiations at Hillsborough, two American companies - Avaya at Monkstown and Hughes Christensen in Castlereagh - announced their decisions to pull out of Northern Ireland with the combined loss of 350 jobs.

Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, urged the NI Executive to take firm and fast action on the economy.

"It is crucial that the primacy of politics is seen to work and is seen to deliver, especially on the economy and we sincerely hope that the promise of a new US-backed investment conference delivers on what this society needs most - more high-quality and sustainable employment," he said.

"It is essential that all of the parties who have signed up to this deal now continue in the spirit of co-operation we saw this morning and work together to address all of the outstanding issues, such as jobs, action on sectarianism and a comprehensive Bill of Rights for all of the people of Northern Ireland."

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