And an even bigger percentage believed the handling of the Brexit process has damaged Northern Ireland’s reputation.
The Chartered Accountants Ulster Society also said there had been a “significant” rise in the number of members who feel more businesses are in financial distress – from 44% to 77% over the last year.
That was the highest percentage over the last seven years “by a considerable margin,” the society said. Early 2016 marked the period ahead of the UK’s vote to leave the EU.
The professional body, which represents over 5,300 accountants, said the findings provided “significant warning signs” for the economy with stagnation and poor prospects ahead.
Emma Murray, chairperson of the society, said members highlighted negative influences including “the current political impasse in Northern Ireland, the squeeze on living standards, cuts in government spending, and the increased cost of doing business, plus the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU”.
She said members wanted the Executive to be restored so that work could take place to address problems in the economy.
The survey also found that businesses regarded the NI Protocol as bringing a significant opportunity for Northern Ireland.
Ms Murray said the profession strongly believed that political leaders should be taking key decisions.
“The longer that political instability continues, the more difficult it is for local business to contribute to growth, jobs and a better quality of life in Northern Ireland.”
At 54%, more than half of chartered accountants surveyed regard prospects for the economy as poor.
Three-quarters believed that the Northern Ireland economy is either contracting or stagnant, with only one in four believing the economy is growing at present.
At 82%, a large majority of those surveyed said that the NI Executive should be restored.
As well as the NI Protocol, the survey found members regard Northern Ireland’s low cost base, high skills offering, geographic location, English speaking workforce and the ability to potentially lower corporation tax as other selling points.
But the biggest drawbacks were ‘rising inflation and squeeze on living standards’ (96%), ‘cutbacks in Government spending’ (95%) and ‘current political conditions in Northern Ireland’ (93%).
Three-quarters of those surveyed identified Brexit as a ‘strongly negative’ or ‘negative’ factor on the performance of the local economy.
But it also identified what it said were “modest positives” for business from Brexit in sales/ turnover growth and export growth outside the UK.
However, the predominant impacts for business were negative, particularly in business costs, purchases from Great Britain, access to EU workers, profits growth and investment plans.
A majority of respondents to the survey (78%) held a strong belief that NI’s reputation had been damaged by the handling of the Brexit process.
Just over 70% (72%) of those surveyed believe that the NI Protocol presents an opportunity for Northern Ireland and 76% believe that the NI Protocol challenges can be addressed.
The Windsor Framework is the most recent attempt to overcome these challenges.
At 82%, large numbers say that the Northern Ireland Executive should be restored, while 69% feel that more powers should be given to permanent secretaries within government departments until the Executive is restored.
The survey found mixed views on whether there should be further devolution of tax powers in Northern Ireland, with 44% saying ‘yes’ and 40% saying ‘no’.
Corporation tax was considered the most suitable tax to devolve, followed by short haul air passenger duty and the apprenticeship levy.
Independent economist Maureen O’Reilly, who analysed the survey of Northern Ireland’s Chartered Accountants, said: “The current political and economic environment is extremely difficult which unsurprisingly is dampening the mood around prospects for the year ahead.
“However, members do see opportunities going forward and the NI Protocol, and now Windsor Framework, is certainly viewed as the main catalyst to support the region to move on to a stronger growth path.”