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NI investment summit

Belfast has played host to companies from across the globe at this week’s Northern Ireland Investment Summit, held from 12-13 September.

Jointly organised by the Department for Business and Trade, the Northern Ireland Office and Invest Northern Ireland, the event saw around 200 global investors and businesses descend on Belfast to pitch for funding and advertise their projects.

The Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) sent a delegation to the summit to hear from Northern Irish businesses and reflect on how the region is likely to grow over the next few years.

The region’s potential

Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris told delegeates at the summit that the region offers investors “unique opportunities”.

“The productive, global relationships built in this room today will benefit Northern Ireland businesses and communities for years to come.

“I’m proud that Northern Ireland’s rich potential is being boosted by UK government funding.

“This summit is a fitting celebration of Northern Ireland’s bright future during the 25th anniversary year of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”

The FT reports that business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch called Northern Ireland “one of the most exciting places to invest in the world” in advance of the summit.

Panel perspectives

Paul Brooks, IOE&IT head of UK nations and regions, was part of the IOE&IT’s delegation.

He particularly notes a panel session titled ‘Why Northern Ireland?’, where speakers praised the talent in the region and its highly skilled workforce, as well as the region’s “stickiness” and quality of life.

The discussion also noted the quality of the area’s universities, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.

EY announcement

At a keynote announcement by EY representatives Rob Heron and Frank O’Keefe, the firm announced a major investment in the area, which it hopes will create 1,000 jobs over five years and will be based around a hub in the north west of the region.

Keefe and Heron emphasised three principles for improving the area’s economy: innovation, stability and inclusion. 

‘No better place to do business’

Following the EY presentation was an interview between the UK’s investment minister Lord Dominic Johnson and the US special envoy to Northern Ireland, Joe Kennedy.

Kennedy, a political ally of US president Joe Biden, argued that Northern Ireland is special in that it is a pivotal player in linking the UK, Ireland and the US.

Chair of the European Innovation Council, Mark Ferguson, also spoke at a panel titled ‘Innovation in our DNA’. Joining him was BT senior executive Paul Murnaghan, who said:

“This is a small place and a big place of 1.9m people. There is no better place to do business; Northern Ireland is just like a sandbox or test bed.”

Quiet in Stormont

Heaton-Harris addressed the region’s political situation during the conference, with the BBC reporting that he expressed disappointment with the failure to have the Northern Ireland executive running again in time for the event.

The power-sharing arrangement underpinning the devolved administration fell apart last February, when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refused to participate in the Stormont assembly, citing concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol that the party felt had not been addressed.

"My team and I have worked intensively with the DUP and indeed all the main Northern Ireland political parties throughout the summer and I am genuinely hopeful that progress will be unlocked very, very soon," said the Northern Ireland secretary.