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Belfast bids to bring world leaders here for Commonwealth summit

By Malachi O'Doherty

Published 10/10/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster
First Minister Arlene Foster

More than 50 heads of state could be on their way to Belfast, if plans to host a major Commonwealth summit here are successful.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings are held every two years, and while the next is coming to the UK, London has been ruled out as the host.

They attract thousands of delegates, filling hotels as well as giving the host city the prestige of the event.

There is speculation that Glasgow and Cardiff are already lobbying the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the summit — but now it has emerged that Belfast is also making a pitch.

Hotelier Lord Diljit Rana and Brian Scott, a former head of Oxfam Ireland, are behind the bid, which has the support of the First Minister, Arlene Foster.

“This meeting would, once again, put the eyes of the world on Northern Ireland and provide the platform to share our world-renowned welcome and hospitality,” said Mrs Foster. “As First Minister, I stand ready to assist in any way in making this a reality.”

Lord Rana and Mr Scott have already been to a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the last one in Malta.

Lord Rana said that Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, has been approached “and knows that we will be lobbying for CHOGM to come to Northern Ireland”.

“I am told he said, ‘Interesting idea, let me talk to my staff’,” according to Lord Rana.

“So, my plea to our First Minister and deputy First Minister is that we should go for it and there is a big opportunity for Northern Ireland to develop our tourism, to create more awareness about Northern Ireland.”

As yet there has been no comment from Sinn Fein.

Mr Scott said: “I have been working with the Commonwealth Secretariat on a project for the past 18 months, during which I attended the last CHOGM, which was held in Malta. There I saw the tremendous economic impact the week-long meeting and all the preliminary preparations had on the Maltese economy. Firstly, there were more than a thousand delegates and officials requiring hotel accommodation, meals, drinks, entertainment and more for a week.

“Then there were more than 300 business people from all over the world coming to the business forum. What a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland’s business sector.”

Lord Rana believes that if the summit is held here, the Republic will have representation there at some level, if only observer status. He has been campaigning for years to persuade the Republic to join the Commonwealth. “Ten or 15 years ago this was not getting much response. But since the royal visit to Dublin, and other things happening, there are now questions being asked and we are hosting other meetings on the same subject.”

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