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'Protestant Perceptions of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland' edited by Dominic Murray (2000)

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Text: Chris Gibson ... Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh



Chris Gibson

"Each problem has hidden in it an opportunity so powerful that it literally dwarfs the problem. The greatest success stories were created by people who recognised a problem and turned it into an opportunity"
Joseph Sugarman

I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s with all the experiences of what now might be described as ‘a privileged Protestant background’, the son of a farmer who involved himself in local community and agricultural business activities. Our family meal times were often the opportunity for discussion on the political and wider issues effecting society during the aftermath of the Second World War. There were, as we can now reflect, dramatic changes occurring within, and arising from, the experience of conflict on a wide scale which accelerated economic and social development. The provision of health care and the changes in the manner in which social services, including housing, were looked upon by society were amongst the drivers of this change. The provision of universal secondary education for all sections of the population changed the context of many people’s lives.

Most importantly on a personal basis, I picked up areas of interest which have influenced me to this day. Firstly, an interest in people and secondly, a curiosity about how things work in a technical sense which of course led me to a scientific career in the chemical business. The third area was an appreciation of the island of Ireland as an entity without political connotations. This probably came from the fact that the cows which provided our livelihood came from Kerry and gave rise to a few visits there during my more impressionable years. These visits were to prepare me for a context in which to place the physical environment in which I have spent most of my life and also a conceptual framework through which to view the massive changes which have and are taking place.

My first experience of meeting and really getting to know a Roman Catholic as a friend was a doctors son at Queens University Belfast in 1958. Separate education was the disadvantage of our time. By 1965 I obtained my first job with the famous East Belfast firm of Richardson’s Fertilisers, located in Short Strand and therefore with a mixed workforce from both traditions. I, like many of my peers, could understand the underlying forces and clear messages of the civil rights movement but could not agree with, or in any way condone, the eruption of violent revolt.

This was said to be done in the name of the Catholic section of the population in 1969 but only seemed to isolate and destroy any progress made in the 60’s and seemed to make reconciliation a distant dream.

My own journey through my life of work continued with a posting to Londonderry in that year. Seeing local people being killed and injured in ‘the troubles’ and indeed being ‘under fire’ myself, whilst at my office, in an engagement between the IRA and the British Army, have been experiences which were part of life in Northern Ireland and which shape ones thinking. I accepted a move to Dublin in 1973 to work for ICI and it was from that perspective that I was to observe the happenings of the next 20 years.

The protection of a multinational company may be criticized as another privileged position, which it was, but the vantage point was indeed unrivalled to see the changes which were transforming Irish society during the 70’s and 80’s. The position of the Roman Catholic Church and its influence on society, and indeed government policy, may have waned during this period but it seemed a major factor to even a liberal Northern Presbyterian. The emerging self confidence of Irish indigenous industry and its capacity to change and adapt was very clear to an ambitious young manager with a strong product portfolio and a desire to develop an ability to seek out opportunities for commercial advantage. It is indeed a strange irony that the mainspring of the Celtic Tiger, the youthful well educated adaptable young workforce, may have arisen from the favourable demographics created by the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude to birth control. These young people, many of whom went abroad, have now returned reinforcing new liberal and demanding attitudes but at the same time supplying a highly developed workforce for both indigenous and inward investors.

During this period of living and working in Dublin, the subject of Northern Ireland was a frequent topic. There were exceptions but I formed the clear impression that the business community far from pressing the ideal of the ‘national question’ (or Irish unification) moved further and further away from doing anything about the subject. They recognised the negative impact on their opportunity to grow and develop their business in the same manner as business people in any other part of the world. Indeed they saw conservative ideological positions as a barrier to economic progress whilst at the same time they saw the opportunities in creating a consensus around some agreed social objectives and a basis for reducing conflict in the workplace which became known as National Agreements.

There are of course exceptions to every rule and I encountered some people who were forceful and antagonistic to this lone Northern Presbyterian far from the support of his own community. An understanding family was however a strong basis to survive these exceptions. These people were as objectionable to me as I am sure the more strident voices of extremism are to whichever viewpoint you emanate from in Northern Ireland.

It is from this set of experiences that I realise the strong formative pressures on each of us from whatever background we emerge and can sympathise with, but not condone, the motivation of those who wish to act speedily to influence a situation by forceful means.

Indeed it often seemed strange that the issues involved, although incredibly important to the survival of the United Kingdom, did not seem to be addressed until the Major and Blair governments of the 1990’s. ‘An acceptable level of violence’ was a policy option too long allowed to remain as the status quo, and seemed only to change when violence hit the City of London itself. It might be argued that the ‘cease-fires’ or ‘suspensions of the armed conflict’ really only happened when the Loyalist community, through an armed intervention equal to the republicans, proceeded to enter the conflict in an organised and serious manner in the 80’s.

This activity was paralleled by others not resorting to violence but with equally strongly held views on either side of the argument. This enlightened self interest at least started the analysis of the ‘Northern Ireland condition’ which has since led to actions of many forms. The activity to which I refer being the Citizens Inquiry coming from Initiative 92 and leading to the Opsahl Report published in 1993. Many unrecorded and unrecognised dialogues and contacts took place. Other initiatives, including the Hume-Adams discussions, changed the context of the exchanges between the protagonists. These and many other initiatives quietly progressed and are too numerous to mention but led to the Belfast Agreement between the Irish and British Governments and the political parties active in Northern Ireland. This received the endorsement of the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the two Referenda and has hopefully changed the debate forever.


"Business is many things, the least of which is the balance sheet. It is a fluid, ever changing, living thing, sometimes building to great peaks, sometimes falling to crumbled lumps. The soul of a business is a curious alchemy of needs, desires, greed and gratification’s mixed together with selfishness, sacrifices and personal contributions far beyond material rewards."
Harold Geneen (b.1910), IT&T., former Chief Executive

The Business Community, whether viewed from the shop floor or the boardroom, has played a vital role in the stability of Northern Ireland over the last 30 years. It has been said that business ‘opted out’ when the going got tough. It could be said that business continued to do what it does best and that very action gave that continuity which has been so vital in providing a platform for our politicians to engage in their contribution to the Peace Process.

Business in Northern Ireland reflects the communities of which it is comprised with the difference that it also reflects the sentiments expressed in the above quotation. All colours of opinion will therefore be reflected throughout the business community in a political sense. The Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland has, along with others, worked tirelessly to encourage, criticize, support and sometimes demand that we move forward towards an accommodation of our differences on the ‘national question’. Also that we remove violence both physical and verbal and build a society capable of tackling the complex problems and challenges of the modern world. Business clearly understands the self-imposed constraints to growth and development of not achieving these goals and of course pursues, as you would expect, a course of enlightened self-interest!

Business as a human activity, by its very nature, tends to be pragmatic and attempts to follow clearly the interests of its stakeholders. The primary task of business is to create value and subsequently wealth which may be used to the benefit of the stakeholders. They may be defined as the customers, the employees, the management, the investors, the suppliers and the surrounding and interacting communities. There are many and various arguments, from the right and the left, as to the strength of the justifiable claims of each of the stakeholders. The truism exists, nevertheless, that if there is no wealth created there can be no distribution of what is not there.

Large public companies or indeed any company lose their credibility and certainly can compromise their position if they, as corporate entities, align themselves with particular parties or partisan viewpoints of any description. This is most certainly the case if the issues are connected issues of a political nature especially in contentious areas or areas of conflict, where serious damage may be done to stakeholders interests. However in a conflict resolution or peace building situation, it is my assertion that an additional responsibility rests on business to build relationships and create pathways for communication. This, of course, may be based on the objective of enhancing long term profit potential and may also contribute to the corporate citizenship profile of the organisation. It has also the potential, in our situation, to deliver the prize of mutual understanding, peace and stability.

The economic health of people and communities are enhanced by this process which may also relieve some of the negative pressures in society but will also lead to the production of new customers and consumers. Trade is a major vehicle to enhance and create a global interdependence and, in that way, create bonds between people rather than the conditions for conflict. Perversely, it will also build competitive marketplaces served by an inexhaustible supply of innovative and competitively priced goods and services.

A major assumption on the relationship between business and peace may therefore be that international or indeed inter-regional or inter-community business can be a positive, mutually beneficial proposition for all participants. Another is that business is not an isolated activity but an integral part of the social and political fabric of society. A third is that business, when conducted with social and environmental consciousness, can be a major force for positive change within society as a whole and governmental systems in particular. Finally most business recognises that there can be no sustainability or long term success from business in our rapidly globalising world without peace.

It was against this background that in 1991 the two major business organisations in Ireland, the Northern Ireland Region of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Irish Business and Employers Federation (IBEC), recognised the scope for increasing the level of trade and business contact between both parts of Ireland. Initially they established the Joint Business Council and subsequently the Business Development Programme. The Council (or the addition of the two separate Councils) initially was just as disconnected as most other institutions and activities within the Island and just as suspicious and fearful of the others’ intentions!

The Joint Business Council rapidly established four main aims:

  • To promote cross border trade.
  • To encourage business development and co-operation on the island of Ireland.
  • To enhance industrial competitiveness on the island.
  • To maximize the benefit of the European internal market.

Latterly a fifth has been added, as the logic and benefits of expanding East-West trade has been appreciated and understood on a wider basis.

The operating vehicle of the Joint Business Council had been the Business Development Programme which has acted as a catalyst to maximise cross border trade and business development and to identify and make recommendations to the two governments for the removal of real and perceived barriers to growth.

The Programme has operated in the areas of engineering, food, cereals and animal feeds, clothing and textiles, building materials and aerospace. These six sectors accounted for 75% of the north-south trade. The aim was to develop relationships between large indigenous companies; small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and multi-nationals.

The Programme gave a high priority to creating a genuine single market on the island for public sector purchasing by liaising with government departments and state agencies, identifying the potential of one part of the island to supply the public sector of the other and by communicating opportunities for import substitution. Since the start of the Programme, there has been some 40% growth in inter-island trade and perhaps as many as 10,000 jobs have been created from the resulting economic activity. The economic interactions themselves are important, but even more vital have been the interpersonal relationships which have resulted. Opportunities have been provided for people to work with each other on mutually beneficial projects from very different backgrounds and political aspirations. The removal of the important psychological barriers to north-south trade, just as important as the physical or financial, generated a genuine interest and goodwill amongst business people in both jurisdictions.

Within the Unionist community, this was perhaps not recognised as rapidly as within the Nationalist. As we move out of the 90s, it is now generally clear that business cannot afford a hidden political agenda which does not relate to economic reality. All shades of Unionist opinion, openly or otherwise, support the concept and reality of inter-island trade and co-operation to aid cost competitiveness or increased market penetration inside or external to the island market.

The next phase of development of business on the island, or indeed within the United Kingdom through the evolution of the European Single Market, will be even more dynamic than the changes throughout the 90’s. The climate of this development in the political context over the next 10 years will either accelerate or hinder our capacity to grow and compete on a global basis. The effects of this regionalism are therefore going to be felt more quickly and painfully within society than before, but also can be remedied or altered by collective action with more precision and more rapidly than in previous generations, provided that we have both the mechanism and the will to allow this to happen.

In this interdependent and increasingly integrated world we need to be aware of others’ views and conscious that their decisions and actions can have both positive and negative affects on us. This external encouragement for the Peace Process has been an important factor in our progress so far. I hope that it will lead to a cultural shift in our business and society at large. We need a culture which generates a common commitment to economic success based on inclusive and effective partnership, which honours entrepreneurs and encourages others to emulate them, which is confident in its own ability, which ensures that the fruits of economic success are widely and fairly shared throughout society.



"I think the skill of waiting has to be learned in the same way as the skills of creating. The seeds must be patiently planted. The soil must be watered and the plants must be allowed to grow over a time that they themselves determine. History will not be outwitted in the same way that plants will not be outwitted. But history too may be watered every day and with patience. Not only with understanding, not only with humility, but also with love."
Vaclav Havel, Czech dissident, playwright and President

The business community is simply a reflection of the larger community at work and it therefore reflects all the characteristics, both positive and negative, of its constituents. However within a business context there are some specific factors which become important. Business is, as I have commented, about the coalescence of common aims and purposes around the pursuit of profit or described in another way, it is wealth creation. This places some constraints on behaviour and also some clarity on processes and a necessity for analysis and review to be enabled to repeat the activities leading to successful outcomes. It also places a premium on the ability to quantify and measure that success, in a manner which is communicable to others, in order to pursue the goal of sustainability. The prerequisite for any business plan is a clear vision for the organisation.

For Unionism that question was asked in 1967 by the leader of the Unionist Party and Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in his television address ‘Ulster at the Crossroads.’ "What kind of Ulster do you want?" was the question asked. We have heard or indeed have had forced upon us by Republicans and Nationalists many different answers to that question which, by my business logic and presumably their perception, is simply a subset of the old national question. But what of the Unionist argument? We have heard many and various answers to O’Neill’s question. Indeed a few are probably within other chapters of this book. We have not yet, as far as I am aware, come to an agreed Unionist position worked through in a visionary way to provide a basis for debate and agreement with our Nationalist and Republican co-inhabitants.

Perhaps I have been absent for a greater portion of this debate or more likely have not been listening properly. If however the process has taken place one might expect at this stage, if interested, to be able to quickly grasp the clear picture of an inspirational collective answer to O’Neill’s question.

The position within Nationalism seems much clearer from the output of the Forum conducted in Dublin. The even clearer picture from Republicanism is still too often painfully apparent to us all, stridently articulated and applied with force to recalcitrant listeners.

In the period before the signing of the Belfast Agreement, the many constituents who make up that broad swath of the population which has become known as ‘civic society’ took a much greater part in the political debate. Indeed they both criticised and supported politicians and parties openly and in private. This was not wholeheartedly welcomed but started a dialogue and return to the more normal operation of these sections of society, in relation to the elected representatives who are such an essential component of any democracy.

In many ways the positive Unionist case has been under-represented in the debate since the Agreement and subsequent Referenda, largely against a background of the continuity of the ‘No’ campaign. The totality of the Agreement, whilst acceptable if it achieves its aim of peace and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland, contains a number of components which are distasteful to democrats of whatever political background. A major issue is the release of terrorists who have not served their complete sentences. They have been tried and convicted in a situation where the legitimate forces of law and order have been constrained under rules of engagement seen at the time as suitable for combating civil disorder, when the opposing force was in a state of war. This does not seem to provide a level playing field and has been strongly promoted by those antagonistic to the Agreement.

The international world of business must correctly conform to many rules and regulations to ensure equity and maintenance of a moral framework. It is important that any civilised society should conform to natural justice in all aspects of its life and work. However it is equally important that people can agree on a common purpose, work together to achieve common goals and understand the power of collaborative advantage and indeed how to bring it about. It is against this background that many in the business community came to the conclusion that though imperfect and not without flaws, the Belfast Agreement at least provided the ingredients for our situation to be moved away from the use of violence to resolve the argument between our deeply held convictions using techniques more favourable to the latter half of the 20th Century.

This argument around the acceptance or rejection of the Agreement is, I believe, based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the process. A process like the journey of our collective lives is ongoing and, as it comprises all of us, does not have a beginning, a middle or an end. It could have an end of course. However the creation of a nuclear holocaust as the answer to an argument about mankind’s existence seems to be a large price to pay for not achieving your aims of providing justice and a better life for all as your goal.

As the fudged or non-decisions in the Agreement come back to haunt us, I believe this understanding of how the process must work will prove vital. A major question is on what basis can we implement or develop answers for the gaps in the Agreement to progress our small corner of the world in a volatile and highly technological new century?

As education of people played its role in providing the means and mechanisms of delivering a creative solution to the conflict of the last 30 years, I having argued that economics has been a substantive glue which holds people together. However this will not form a robust foundation if the ethical basis of the process itself does not withstand the heat of attack from all quarters. To put it at its simplest we cannot remain in a Wonderland as Alice did where "words can mean precisely what I intend them to mean". Surely a fundamental tenant of human existence, not to mention of civilisation, is that all have a right to life? We have spent billions of whatever currency you care to think of in the advance of medicine, including the creation of a vast pharmaceutical industry, in pursuit of this goal. On what basis can one continue to pursue one’s legitimate aspirations by killing those who hold a different view, whether they be from the opposing viewpoint or simply differ on the basis of how ones own goal is to be achieved? We have reached a fundamental point in this process.

We need to decide if the violent war is at an end. If this is indeed the case, Republicans, who control the means, need to say so, in an appropriate manner which fits with their traditional values. Having done this there would seem to be no longer any need for the means to propagate the war. As the loyalist case is built on defence, it would also be logical that they would no longer need their reactionary arsenal. Indeed we as a society no longer need the legitimate armed protection of the state through the constitutional forces ranged around us and could proceed to put the resources released to productive use to benefit those members of society who currently are deprived.

The establishment of what might be considered a forced or contrived coalition is, I believe, in the circumstances acceptable, though in the long-term undesirable. It has been postulated as a necessary and useful mechanism to achieve a degree of forward progress from an undesirable situation for us all. The essence of any collaborative arrangement to give collective advantage must be that all see a clear answer in their own terms to the question ‘what’s in it for me?’ The establishment of a coalition and its effective, if not its efficient, operation requires that all are open and transparent about their aims and purposes in participation.

We are indeed in a major experiment of governance, if not of democracy, in the current proposals. All political participants to this experiment need to understand the process of collaborative advantage more clearly than most of us have demonstrated our grasp of the concepts in the wider process of the run up to the Agreement and in subsequent months.

The establishment of a governance mechanism, be it an executive or indeed any other proposal, needs to arrive at a position where it assumes power and authority based upon a respect and trust not readily evident throughout our society. If we are to enjoy the advantages of local democracy, which is that people familiar with the issues and the connections can more rapidly recognise and resolve the problems, then we must encourage and sustain those engaged in trying to bring this about. We will and are being tested each step of the way.

This process involves crucial questions. Do the ends justify the means? What bottom line does our position hold? What exactly does a specific principle mean to us? From the pragmatism of a business life at least these questions are not unfamiliar. The ethical principles and the embedded experiences of all of us seem to make it difficult for us to face the choices which each generation, so far, have struggled to conquer. We live at a time of more accumulated wisdom than any period of mankind’s history, with more technological power and capacity to handle data than ever before. Can we demonstrate that we in our Age of Change, can create a more sustainable answer than our predecessors, and therefore attain our goal of a happier, healthier and more invigorating place for our children to live their lives than the generations gone before?

These are the questions we must answer to ourselves and to the world at large before it is too late. The truth is that having been on the world stage for a number of decades we will not get much sympathy if we have now raised expectations that we collectively fail to deliver upon. We may think we can live in grand isolation and continue as before, however that ignores the evidence from all around us.


"… You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try."
Beverley Sills (b 1929), Opera Singer and Manager

What can the business view contribute to the way forward for our society?
If it is accepted that the business community is simply ‘society at work’, then business people have a right and a duty to make the maximum contribution to our society at all levels and through all channels. The world we are already living in is not the comfortable world some of us grew up within. The opportunities are greater both for success and failure. Let me describe some of these.

In the 20th century, as I have already made reference, we have developed many capabilities including the capacity to destroy ourselves through a nuclear holocaust. We indeed have misused and abused many of the more enlightened scientific discoveries made during the century including the ability to damage mankind through biological warfare. However we have developed the capacity to lift human existence to a new level using science and technology, we have also developed the capacity to enable the eradication of hunger and disease and provide economic advance in many ways through automation and new technology.

Notwithstanding the pressures and the problems of our lives in Northern Ireland, I am sure we recognise that we live in an age of rapid change and multitudinous choices with fewer and fewer constraints in many areas. The worlds markets are so fast, so competitive that 90% of new products are off the market within two years of being launched. Financial markets are so powerful that they trade in a day $1.3 trillion - more than the reserves of every government in the world put together. Within the top 100 economies of the world 40 of them are corporations not countries or national entities.

Another feature of world economic development is the growth of Regionalism against a background of liberalising of world trade. Within Europe this is being identified as the economic organisational structure of preference for the future. Within the United Kingdom we can see this in an economic form through the changes emerging from devolution. Around the world nationalism is changing and being expressed in new and different ways. It is only in certain ‘hotspots’ that it is causing turbulence, however because of global communications, we all know about it virtually as it happens.

Within society in general confusion is widespread. We all realise that we live in a world of increasing complexity but are uncertain about how to tackle the many fundamental problems around us. The old rules and what seemed like certainties no longer apply. Society has lost many of the old class and structure barriers including changes to the fundamental family unit. A fierceness of individual competitiveness has been substituted throughout so many aspects of our lives, from the farm to the factory, from the school to the sportsfield. We also live in a world so full of dynamism and freedom through democracy that we have unleashed power into peoples hands that would have been unimaginable even mid way through this century. The challenge for all of us is how are we to use these newly found freedoms and choices in ways which contribute to those around us, rather than destroying them and ourselves in the process?

Traditional structures and organisations do not seem to be capable of withstanding the profound changes underlying our time. Things are changing at an unprecedented rate in the world around us. The stark choice for our society at this time is how do we face these issues after the period of trauma and terror experienced by us all over the last 30 years. The collective changes we have made through the Belfast Agreement could form an integral part of our capability as 1.6 million people in the north-eastern corner of a small island, to deal with this situation. Many of the issues dealt with in the Agreement cause pain and anguish to different people and I have referred to some of these earlier.

One thing I believe is clear; the Ireland of the 20th century is changed forever. The pressure for change, of which I have given you a flavour, is irreversible. The technological advance of the microchip is a tornado. The globalisation of organizations driven by markets and the aggregation of core competencies to gain economies of scale and reach is a hurricane. The demographic situation, two billion people added to the worlds population in the next 25 years, 95% of them outside the OECD area, is a deluge. Between now and 2015 the number of new jobs required to keep unemployment rates unchanged in the developing world will exceed the populations of North America and Western Europe. Trade patterns and investment flows cannot be unaffected by such profound upheavals. All this cannot and will not be rolled back. When this is combined with our power to transmit information and data across the airwaves we have clearly a major force for changing many of the accepted norms of the past.

An exercise which involved the participation of the public and private sectors to redefine and describe the collective economic strategy of the Northern Ireland economy has been attempted by a government-led initiative through the Department of Economic Development. It involved over 300 people directly (including the author of this chapter as a member of the steering committee) and many others collectively through their many and diverse organizations. It has been called Strategy 2010 and has not only started the dynamic of strategy building within the economic community but the even more difficult task of resolving divergent views between people of strong conviction and even stronger rhetoric. The vision statement flowing from Strategy 2010 envisages

"[a] fast growing, competitiveness, innovative, knowledge-based economy where there are plentiful opportunities and a population equipped to grasp them".

This vision cannot be created in isolation and not only requires the substantive support of the majority of the population but also mutual understanding and encouragement of our neighbouring regions within the UK and Ireland. We need other regions of the world that can see an ‘enlightened’ self-interest ‘to take note of our situation and acknowledge us by inward investment or trading links’.

The analysis contained in the document tries to set out an honest review of Northern Ireland’s strengths and weaknesses. Our problem of long-term unemployment and benefit dependency is addressed, so too is the aging and traditional industrial structure and the need for its reorganisation. The document discusses the high level of grant subsidy throughout our community. It indicates that in terms of job-related education and skills we fall behind other regions. It points out the low level of R&D and innovation in Northern Ireland, again compared to external benchmarks. The slow uptake of IT and E-Commerce in our business community is identified. The high cost of energy sources, the geographic peripherality of Northern Ireland, our complex public and economic administrative structures and public sector dependency are all outlined in considerable detail.

Equally on the positive side, our favourable demography is pointed out as a very strong plus for Northern Ireland. The large numbers of young people coming into the work force, the level of our educational attainment and the strength of our two universities and higher education sector are considerable competitive strengths. So too is the availability of labour, excellent telecommunications and attractive working and living environment which is affordable in Northern Ireland, as well as the great opportunity offered by peace. These are all listed as positive features in Northern Ireland’s business landscape.

During 1998 CBI Northern Ireland put forward a paper in relation to the economic governance of the Province derived from suggestions from within the membership. This took as its starting point research highlighted from the Northern Ireland Economic Council as to lessons from other prosperous EU regions.


  • A strategic and integrated policy approach with a culture of commitment.
  • Co-operation, trust and networking, frequently with links into the global economy.
  • Enabling and facilitating institutions both within the public sector and civil society, and between them.
  • Focus on competitiveness and growth supported by policies and structures to ensure cohesion.

To enable us to match if not surpass these successful regions of Europe it is essential that we move our society forward.

We must address the following key issues:

  • We need strong co-ordination and integration of policy within a strategic framework. (Follow on of Strategy 2010)
  • We need to focus on wealth creation, competitiveness and social inclusion within key policy areas. (They are not mutually exclusive)
  • We need to create real and effective public/private partnerships.
  • We need to create a shared vision of Northern Ireland - not just within the business community.
  • We need to link strategic top-down decision making with bottom-up local community creativity, innovation and enthusiasm.
  • We need to ensure policy making at higher levels within the UK and Europe is better informed of our regional needs.

These issues are not isolated from the constitutional and political issues dealt with in the Belfast Agreement. The business community must play an integral and fundamental role in the evolution of the new society we hope to create. Partnership seems to be a much-used word. It is only during the last decade or so that business has generally recognised the need for it and built partnerships within their own organizations. This has been accomplished with both employees and externally with suppliers. We all, including those of us in business, have much to learn on how really to build the trust upon which true partnership can only prosper.

We also need to regain our self-confidence. This self-confidence was self-evident at the turn of the last century when the north east of Ireland really was showing the way in textiles, shipbuilding and agriculture. It was evident in the financial successes of the time although we might now, with the luxury of hindsight, debate the equity of the distribution of the economic success. However it is certainly true that the management and workforce had the skills and the competencies to meet the business and trading challenges of the day. It is this sense of self worth in ourselves which we need to create across the divided communities as we enter the new century. We need an economic vision of a new Northern Ireland at peace within itself and with its neighbouring regions together with a rediscovered Ulster dynamism which seems to have been submerged or diverted down destructive channels over the past three decades.

There are some basic principles which, although contained in Strategy 2010 in an economic context, should also be applied to our society in general if we are to regain this collective self-confidence. We need to build an integrated community based on the not so revolutionary idea of self-help. We should focus on practical actions to build on our indigenous strengths, through partnerships with people with whom we may not have realized we have much in common. We need to reward enterprise and encourage entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial spirit in everything we do. It is through the seeds of innovation and risk taking that a fulfilled society is created. When this is combined with the principles of wealth creation a fully prosperous society may possibly emerge. We need to look outwards because the world does not owe us a living, but if we direct ourselves to the issues we can make our way in the global economy of the future. Competitiveness will be the key to survival and success and competitiveness in turn will depend on matching and surpassing the standards of competition in whatever aspect of life you are engaged.

To achieve success as a region we need nothing less than a cultural revolution in our businesses and in society at large. We need a culture which generates a common commitment to success based on inclusive and effective partnership; that honours the entrepreneurs and encourages others to emulate them; that is confident in its own abilities; that ensures that the fruits of economic success are widely and fairly shared throughout society.

I do not apologise for spending the last part of my chapter on the economic world we live within. The world does not owe us a living and we have been given world attention and support in our process of self-help as our politicians piece by piece built the Belfast Agreement. Many in our society would throw all this away and start again.

Business teaches you that you cannot start from the same place again. If this deal does not work then our society cannot and will not receive much external support but most importantly the building blocks of a future deal will be very different from those we currently contemplate. The young people who will start work this year will be in their early 50’s by the year 2030. If you look back 30 years we are talking about 1969. Which of us would have been brave enough or foolish enough to predict with precision the world we live in today? What will they have to say about a generation that had a solution, had done all the work, but failed to grasp it at the implementation stage?

We will see around us people dealing with this situation in three ways. Firstly, denial; resist the changes, say it is not happening, certainly not to me. Secondly, acknowledging the need to change; to be different, to try and stick to the status quo as long as possible, effectively delaying the inevitable. Thirdly, by embracing the changes; by saying I am going to make the new situation work, it may be difficult but I will make my contribution to the new society where peace and prosperity become the goals and we leave dogmatism and destruction behind us.

Any society is comprised of people with varying abilities, interests and outlooks. We will never achieve complete unanimity on every issue but if we go forward using the compromises arrived at through the Belfast Agreement we will be providing hope for our young people. We will have to continue with the painstaking work of attempting to achieve a ‘joined up’ society. Let us hope that we have a ‘joined up’ administration, led by a "joined up" assembly to assist us in this journey and that a normalised society can tackle the massive challenge of living together peacefully in the 21st century.

"Peace comes dropping slow, dropping from the veils of the morning where the cricket sings."

So peace for each of us has a personal definition. For many of us outside the world of politics it is certainly a condition the achievement of which I hope we in the practical world of business have made our contribution to hasten. If the politicisation of an issue is the mobilisation of public opinion, then this should not be left to politicians alone. In a world of instant communication which is fully interconnected and no longer contained in neat units, then the methodology of the past will not produce satisfactory outcomes. The complexities must be replicated in the methodologies adopted to create answers which are acceptable to people with wide ranges of backgrounds, desires and demands.

We the people, politicians and those of us engaged in business have to accept the challenge of change and set out on the path to the future. We will need to recognise that the only vehicle available is the one we have built and the only sustainable fuel to run it on is the trust which must continue to be built between us all.


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CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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