When I first read the motion, my reaction was to look at it from an economic point of view and to think that the arguments should be about that. However, after hearing the Members who tabled the motion speak in this debate, I know that that is not the case. It is purely and simply a political argument that is being advanced.
It is not a difficult motion, and it is not a complex issue. Quite simply, Northern Ireland needs to take a pragmatic approach to how it develops its economic well-being, and there is the potential for co-operation for Northern Ireland in areas that will lead to job creation. However, to restrict those areas to co-operation with a neighbour that has major economic difficulties, rising unemployment and fiscal difficulties and that needs to be bailed out not only by the EU but, at the same time, by the UK, does not seem to me to make good economic sense. It is purely a political argument.
There are implications for the UK and the Republic, and I will not argue that there should be no co-operation. However, there are also implications for the UK economy in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, which are all connected into the euro. The UK has responsibilities that will have a negative impact on the UK economy when trading in a European context. The people of Northern Ireland would be extremely disappointed if we looked only south rather than looking to the east and west, and we should look even more to international connections in potential job creation opportunities. Northern Ireland has the potential to do more in areas of co-operation with international partners, the other devolved Administrations and England, where there is much greater potential for success.
There is no bar to a working-together arrangement, co-operation or concerted action by Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There are many examples where business-to-business co-operation already exists, and that is to be welcomed. However, co-operation should be for economic reasons rather than be motivated by a political agenda. It should be the economy first, the economy second and the economy third. Only through that approach will more jobs be created.
The vision of any western economy in the current economic situation must be characterised by a strong, competitive and socially inclusive ethos. Strong economic clusters need to be developed, and their development must not be impaired by politics but be purely economic in its approach. The aim of any economic strategy has to include economic initiatives and strategies and business performances that can be measured against best performance internationally. Only by doing that will our businesses in Northern Ireland survive and thrive. For Northern Ireland, it means developing the capability to become even more fully aware of operating in the global economy and includes the ability to act locally but to think globally as well. It means building the economic and competitive advantages that we enjoy, particularly in the areas of our roads, rail, sea and air connections, and it means developing our ports and airports to allow ease of export and, indeed, easy access to Northern Ireland.
I conclude by saying that, because of the educational base of Northern Ireland, we have a great opportunity to look at research and development. Developing R&D, upgrading skills and innovation, which are essential in securing a strong position in a knowledge-based economy of the future and are already prioritised in the Programme for Government, are the successes we should build on if we are to trade on an international basis.