Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust have just returned from a memorable educational programme held at Westminster. This is the first year that the NIABT has run such a programme and it attracted a wide range of parliamentary and business members, all interested in learning more about how central government works. Members had a busy and varied schedule on their two day visit.
Day 1 of the visit and we literally hit the ground running with an informative session on the Legislative and Committee process at Westminster. Alasdair Mackenzie from Parliamentary Outreach set the context by highlighting and differentiating the decision making powers at Westminster and the NI Assembly. He was ably assisted by David Simpson MP and NI Affairs Committee Chairperson Laurence Roberson MP. Laurence provided information from a political perspective, highlighting examples of recent high profile committee reports on Corporation Tax and Airport Tax and answering questions from NIABT Members.
Next we had a meeting with Jeffrey Donaldson MP, Jim Shannon MP, Minister of State for Northern Ireland Hugo Swire MP and Lord Empey who dropped in to regale NIABT Members with personal anecdotes and insights into their life and work at Westminster.
[wpaudio url=”http://niabt.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/leslie-cree.mp3″ text=”Leslie Cree discusses how the NIABT can help local businesses”]
The hectic nature of the first day continued with a briefing from the Confucius Institute for Northern Ireland which is based at the University of Ulster. The China Project Manager talked about the importance the Institute places on fostering closer academic, cultural and economic ties between China and Northern Ireland.
We were later joined by Patrick McIlroy from Invest NI, who delivered a presentation to the group on the role of Invest NI in London and the challenges faced when attempting to secure jobs for Northern Ireland.
Late afternoon and we just about catch our breath in time to attend an NI Affairs Select Committee Meeting where discussions centred on the annual loss of revenue to the Treasury as a result of fuel laundering and smuggling in Northern Ireland. For both parliamentary and business members, this provided an excellent opportunity to watch a Westminster Committee in action.
[wpaudio url=”http://niabt.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/david-mcclarty.mp3″ text=”David McClarty explains why businesses need to understand how Westminster works”]
After a busy day of meetings and briefings, we had a working dinner hosted by Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP MLA. The hard work continued as we were all keen to discuss a number of business related issues including the importance of ensuring appropriate training for school leavers entering the work force.
During the dinner, Lord Ballyedmond joined Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP MLA at his table and Ian Paisley MP also hosted a table in the members’ Dining Room. Both Lord Ballyedmond and Ian Paisley MP added to the debates taking place by drawing on their vast business and politicla knowledge.
[wpaudio url=”http://niabt.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Bobby-McDonagh.mp3″ text=”Bobby McDonagh, the Irish Ambassador in London believes that there is so much potential for trade between the UK and Ireland”]
As Day 2 dawned it was another early start with an information session hosted by the Irish Embassy in London. After an informal discussion we were off again – this time to the Federation of Small Businesses building in London, where Andrew Cave, Head of FSB External Affairs provided an interesting and insightful overview of the work of the FSB in the UK and Northern Ireland. As always NIABT Members were keen to put their own questions forward.
[wpaudio url=”http://niabt.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/andrew-cave.mp3″ text=”Andrew Cave believes that it is important for small businesses to understand Westminster”]
After a working lunch, hosted by Lord Ballyedmond in the House of Lords, during which we were joined by Lord Maginnis, we embarked on the final part of the programme.
Lord Empey joined us later and all three took part in an interesting discussion with us on the important scrutiny role of the House of Lords. The visit culminated in a tour of the House of Lords with Lord Maginnis, Lord Empey and Lord Ballyedmond providing a unique overview of the history and tradition that exists there.