Invest NI row: Allister and Paisley in verbal joust

TUVs Jim Allister
TUVs Jim Allister

Ian Paisley’s job creation challenge to Jim Allister has led to a scathing retort from the TUV leader.

Last week, the TUV leader was unsparing in his criticism of the input by Invest NI in attracting potential investors to the area. He contended the number of visits to North Antrim was paltry in comparison with other parts of the province.

Ian Paisley - defence of Invest NI role in North Antrim

Ian Paisley - defence of Invest NI role in North Antrim

In the wake of that statement, Paisley hit back with accusations of ‘gurning’. Today the verbal firefight intensified with the TUV man accusing the MP of making ‘cheap political attacks’.

Yesterday, Mr. Paisley said: “When I hear some politicians complain that ‘nothing is being done’, I often think it would be worthwhile conducting an audit of what the ‘complainer’ has done and what value he/she brings to the locality. Invest NI has a difficult job in attracting employment to an island off an island off the west of Europe.

“Whilst much is done to make the region attractive in terms of connectivity, tax incentives etc it is still one of the most difficult challenges and Invest NI instead of being constantly criticised, ought to be encouraged. In spite of the difficulties, Invest NI has proven itself very capable, with the highest levels of foreign direct investments next to London into this part of the United Kingdom.”

Mr. Paisley noted that ‘some local politicians’ were complaining about a lack of ‘Foreign Direct Investment’ visits into North Antrim facilitated by Invest NI.

“I am prompted to ask all politicians who make that complaint, well what are you doing about it? Are you finger pointing or are you using your elected office to create contacts in the business world and generate opportunities or are you capable of doing that part of the job?”

The MP said he had brought a number of inward investment visits to North Antrim ‘off his own bat’. These included visits by investors from Singapore, Oman, Sri Lanka and Gibraltar and the United States of America. He added that he was currently in the process of arranging a visit in early September for a significant investment opportunity from Taiwan and at the end of that month a Latin/American visit to North Antrim had been arranged.

“As they say you have to swing the bat to hit the ball. It is a pity some of Invest NI critics do not even know there is a bat to swing let alone how to hold it!

“I face a huge challenge to see the job losses at JTI filled, in the past five years I have witnessed the creation of 500 new jobs across North Antrim and with 870 due to be lost in 2017 I am working hard to make up that deficit,” said Mr. Paisley.

Not unexpectedly, the comments attracted an equally combative response from the TUV leader.

Mr. Allister said: “The only thing more pitiful than Invest NI’s record in North Antrim is Ian Paisley Jnr jumping to their defence in an effort to get them off the hook. Over the 2014-15 period there hasn’t been a single inward investment visitor brought to North Antrim by Invest NI. That simply isn’t good enough in my book.”

And he accused the North Antrim MP of being ‘more interested in pitiful excuses for his party’s record in government’ than ‘holding a key agency to account when it patently doesn’t deliver’.

Mr. Allister contended: “The facts speak for themselves and any elected official should be questioning why Invest NI, the agency which seeks to bring investors into Northern Ireland, has been neglecting North Antrim. Surely, as the MP for North Antrim, Paisley should be leading the charge against this organisation to up their game, but instead he seeks to deflect criticism from them.

“I welcome all efforts to bring investors to North Antrim, but when the agency tasked with that particular mandate fails then the public deserves answers, not cheap political attacks.”