Construction optimism as NI assembly reopens

The Stormont parliamentary building in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Three years after the collapse of the power-sharing government, the Northern Ireland assembly has reopened for business ushering in renewed optimism about the prospects for the infrastructure sector.

The assembly collapsed after Sinn Féin withdrew from the Stormont executive over the role of their main coalition partners, the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), in a controversial green energy scheme that wasted hundreds of millions of pounds. However, the assembly is now up and running again after an unprecedented Saturday sitting that saw assembly members elect DUP leader Arlene Foster as first minister, Sinn Féin’s deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill, as deputy first minister and her colleague Alex Maskey as the chamber’s speaker.

Speaking after she was elected, Foster said that Northern Ireland had “focused too much on derision and division” for the past three years and that it was now “time for Northern Ireland to get moving forward again”. Deputy first minister O’Neill said that it was a time to bring people together. “We must give people hope and our young people opportunity,” she said. “It is my sincere hope that 2020 is a time of real change which reinvents the optimism and hope we have experienced before,” said O’Neill.

That mood of optimism was also echoed by a spokesperson for the construction sector in Northern Ireland. Chair of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) Northern Ireland, Arup director Paul Johnston, said: “It is good news that Northern Ireland’s assembly is back up and running again.  We have had three years when few if any major infrastructure investment decisions have been made. Last Friday’s agreement identifies many projects where urgent investment is required.  Add to that the need for a focus on climate change, sustainability and the drive to net zero carbon and there is much work ahead for ACE member organisations in the province,” said Johnston.

“It is also very welcome to see a focus on cross-border infrastructure. The North-South electricity interconnector, the upgrade of the A5 from Derry/Londonderry to the border and a commitment to look at the feasibility of high-speed rail from Belfast to Dublin to Cork. We all know that effective resilient infrastructure is key to both economic development across the island and a more sustainable future for us all,” Johnston said.

The new power-sharing government will include all five main parties, as the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Ulster Unionists (UUP) have all agreed to enter the administration.

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