David Ford stated: “After the jobs blow we have suffered in Antrim, it is easy for politicians to demand the ‘Government must do something’. It is a lot tougher to take responsibility for the difficult decisions that would give us an economic set-up where we provide quality jobs for those with appropriate experience and training.
“The first task is to end political instability. That means not only some kind of deal between the big two parties, but an absolute acceptance on all sides that the political institutions were broken, and that they need to be fixed. That means reform of the Agreement to produce an Assembly built to last.
“The second task is to end simplistic political arguments on the key issues. We cannot just ‘demand investment’. We simply cannot compete with developing Eastern economies in terms of wages, so we need to add value in terms of skills. We have to reform our entire educational system to produce well-trained school leavers, top quality graduates, and keen entrepreneurs – something which has nothing to do with a simplistic debate about selection at age 11, and everything to do with a basic review of our entire educational system through to tertiary level.
“The third task is to get real on the economy. We need to secure a deal with the Treasury that enables Northern Ireland to become a research and development hub, so that we have the knowledge right here at home to compete with the best in the world.
“We cannot continue to leave this to bureaucrats, or to direct-rule ministers, or short-term thinkers. We need to think properly about the changes and decisions necessary to deliver a better economy and a better society – and we need to be prepared to take those decisions, even if initially unpopular.
“We have to decide between the populist politics of sectarian carve-up and the responsible leadership of people prepared to take the tough decisions in government.”