During Topical Questions to the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, Alex Maskey took the opportunity to express his concern at the potential impact on Christmas trading in Belfast City Centre from flag protests and to ask what steps the Minister might take to minimise the possible problems. Ms Foster agreed that “we have to recognise protests of any nature in the city centre will have an impact on trade” and that there needs to be dialogue between protestors and traders to find a way around any difficulties. She is keen “to see Belfast reach its potential over the winter months” and her door is open to provide any kind of assistance that she can.
When questioned by Mickey Brady on the recent Ulster Bank and InterTradeIreland reports on the economy, the Minister welcomed the findings highlighting that they show we “are stabilising the economy here and are moving into growth mode”. Employment is expanding at its fastest rate in six years and after many lean years it looks as though the recent problems experienced across most sectors have “bottomed out” and are now seeing the signs of recovery and growth.
After providing an update on the joint ministerial task force on banking and access to finance, Gordon Dunne asked the Minister about her views on the Royal Bank of Scotland’s (RBS) proposed review into Ulster Bank. Ms Foster welcomed RBS’s decision to keep Ulster Bank in its group citing her belief that this clarification will have positive implications for the local property market and for the job security of those who might have been adversely affected. The review provides an “important opportunity to help shape the Ulster Bank” which remains a big player and “is a strategically important part of growing the Northern Ireland economy”.
Chris Hazzard asked the Minister what her department would be doing to assist Northern Ireland’s only aquarium, Exploris, and help prevent its impending closure. Ms Foster stressed that for Exploris to remain viable it would have to look at avenues for improving its commerciality in the long term. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Invest NI are available to assist Ards Borough Council (the Council that currently funds Exploris and has made the decision on its closure) in this respect and if commercially viable proposals are brought forward she will remain as “positive” as she can be.