Tue 3rd Mar 2015
Feb 15: America – a long-time friend of Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland and America; it has been a long and important relationship which endures to this day and in fact could be said to be more important now than at any time in the past. The political leadership in Washington stood shoulder to shoulder with Northern Ireland during critical phases in our fledging peace process in the early and mid 1990s, the most demonstrable example of that support being when President Clinton came to Belfast on 30 November 1995 in the wake of the 1994 ceasefires.
Coming out of that political alliance was a shared desire to foster economic links in a bid to financially underpin the political process. That has manifested itself in multiple economic and investment conferences, inward investment visits which have been facilitated by the State Department and an open door policy on Capitol Hill and in the Whitehouse. Indeed the access our local politicians have had to senior American officials and elected politicians, including the President, has been the envy of many of our neighbours. We must sustain that relationship and make it work for our people and our economy.
The NI Bureau in Washington has done sterling work over the last decade, reinforcing our standing on Capitol Hill and ensuring that Northern Ireland remains high on the agenda, notwithstanding the competing pressures from other regions. The team at the Bureau will be working at full speed around St Patrick’s Day later this month when NI Chamber joins other business and political representatives at the White House in Washington DC as a guest of President Barack Obama for the annual St Patrick’s Day reception. We will once again work together to persuade US businesses that Northern Ireland is open for business and worthy of consideration as a viable destination for foreign direct investment.
This year our message will be enhanced by the fact that we have finally won the argument over the devolution of Corporation Tax. I sounded a note of caution last month that our Executive parties must maintain the momentum on this crucial issue; securing the power was a milestone step and it needs to be moved forward quickly if we are to maximise the potential impact.
Investment decisions have very long lead in times but what we as a business community require is a date for the new tax rate, and the rate at which it will be set. With this ‘date and rate’ to hand, our message to America Inc is much more effective. That is where we need agreement and a public commitment. We are with our politicians as they work towards that goal.