Following on from the success of last year’s programme, NIABT members were back in Westminster again this year where they took part in a packed programme of briefings and events.
Business got off to an early start on the first morning of the two day visit with a legislative and committee overview from Alasdair Mackenzie, Westminster’s parliamentary Outreach Officer. Alastair was later joined by Laurence Robertson MP, Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, who provided an overview of some of the Committee’s recent inquiries including the air transport strategy in Northern Ireland.
Next stop was the Stranger’s Gallery where members got the opportunity to observe Northern Ireland Questions and Prime Minister’s Question Time. Mike Penning MP, Minister of State for Northern Ireland, joined the group later in the afternoon to talk about his experience as an MP and what his new role as Minister of State for Northern Ireland entails.
The busy pace of the first day continued with a group of members observing an evidence session of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The highlight of this meeting was the NIABT Vice Chair John Rooney and NIABT member Glyn Roberts providing their analysis on current Northern Ireland air transport arrangements and how this could be improved to aid the local economy.
NIABT members were later joined by Vernon Coaker MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, for a lively and informative debate on the Northern Ireland economy.
Day one drew to a close with members attending a working dinner with local MPs Ian Paisley, Jim Shannon, the Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson, Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA, Margaret Ritchie, Mark Durkan and David Simpson. Issues discussed at the dinner included Corporation Tax and Airport Duty.
As the second day of the visit began, there was an early start for members as they attended a breakfast meeting, hosted by the Irish Ambassador Bobby McDonagh at the Irish Embassy. During this breakfast, the discussions included continued close economic relationships between Ireland and the United Kingdom and the upcoming Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Invest NI was the next topic at Westminster where Karena Vaughan, Director of Invest NI delivered an overview of the organisation’s work and role in the UK. The focus of questions was on how the small business sector could be developed and supported. A fascinating discussion also took place on the growth of the space technology and research industry in the UK and opportunities for local businesses and graduates.
The final part of the visit included a working lunch in the House of Lords hosted by Lord Ballyedmond, members were joined by Lord Maginnis of Drumglass. Lord Ballyedmond took members on a tour of the House of Lord and provided a fascinating and informative overview of the rich history and the traditions that exist there.