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Entrepreneur's Challenge to Bankers and Politicians

29 September 2010

One of Northern Ireland’s business leaders has laid down a marker to politicians and bankers, saying they must help, not hinder, the province’s path to economic recovery.

In an address at an event hosted by the Ulster Business School and Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of Parker Green International, Dr Gerard O’Hare criticised politicians’ lack of understanding towards business and challenged banks for not loosening the purse strings on lending.

The Newry entrepreneur, who is chairman of the University of Ulster Foundation, is one of Northern Ireland’s most successful property and business figures, with a portfolio of development across Ireland, UK, central Europe and the USA.

Professor Richard Barnett, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ulster, introducing him to an audience of people in property development, construction, academia and enterprise, said: “Passion and energy, high standards, high ambitions and high achievements - these are the hallmarks of Gerard O’Hare.”

Delivering the sixth lecture in the Ulster Business School’s “Celebrating Business Excellence” series at the University of Ulster, Belfast campus at York Street on Tuesday (Sept 28), Dr O’Hare sounded a wake up call about leadership and risk taking as a key element of business growth.

In his address Dr O’Hare said “The banks got not only reckless but careless. They didn’t just gamble on the favourites winning a race, they put stakes on every horse in every race….Some two years following the bank bail outs, the mainstream banks who begged for government intervention and who are now supported by public funds are still not honouring their commitment to stimulate business growth by lending. That in my book is bad faith.”

Dr O’Hare, whose accomplishments include the Quays development in Newry where nearly 2,000 are employed in a location that was a derelict site 10 years ago, expressed frustration that “despite having delivered on all aspects of my business commitments, I now find that there is no discernment between good and bad businesses in the current climate. Track record and ability to deliver appears to mean little to banks”.

He also emphasized the need for responsible reporting and commentary during a recession: “There is a circle of negativity bound by the mutual needs of some opposition politicians who seem intent on playing economic roulette with an all too eager media pack, and the lives and welfare of our people are the real chips in this game. This is not sustainable if we are to lift out economy by its bootstraps.”

With an international business headquartered in the cross-border region, Dr O’Hare said he found it incredible “that when faced with a crisis of a magnitude never faced before, the two parts of this island appear to be looking in opposite directions. There is little economic or political synergy at a time when the scale of both parts of the island demands better use of our combined resources”.

He also argued that he found a lack of understanding amongst politicians when it came to creating a framework for sustainable businesses to develop.

“Entrepreneurship involves risk and yet despite our political leaders having taken huge political risks to get into government, they fall short of understanding business risk.

“Indeed, if you follow the comments of some politicians, there is almost no engagement with business in any meaningful way. It is almost based on mutual mistrust. If our politicians want to help create business start ups, then they need to adopt a more mature attitude towards private enterprise.”