Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness won't be going on Brazil trip during World Cup

By Liam Clarke

Martin McGuinness will not be going on a trade mission to Brazil during the World Cup final next month, Sinn Fein sources have said.

The Deputy First Minister's announcement came after Peter Robinson said he would be staying in Northern Ireland due to fears over violence surrounding parades.

Mr McGuinness had never accepted an invitation to go, according to Sinn Fein sources.

The two leaders want to stay 'on the ground' during what they fear will be a particularly difficult marching season. Mr Robinson in particular intends to take a "hands-on" approach to marching issues.

"I just think things are so serious that to be out of Northern Ireland at this time would be entirely wrong," Mr Robinson warned.

They were invited to visit the Latin American country by Marfrig, the Brazilian agri-food giant and now Northern Ireland's largest private-sector employer.

If the two ministers had travelled they would be expected to attend one or more matches as Marfrig's guests – possibly even the final, which is scheduled to take place the day after the climax of the marching season on July 12.

Mr McGuinness will formally announce that he will not be going in the coming days.

But it is a sign of the strained relations between him and Mr Robinson that they did not coordinate their approach. Mr Robinson did not consult Mr McGuinness before making his announcement.

When asked in a BBC interview if Mr McGuinness was going, Mr Robinson said he had no idea but would shortly be conveying his own decision to Sinn Fein.

"That is just Robinson's personality. I wouldn't read too much into that," a Sinn Fein official said, playing down the significance of the lack of communication. There was a feeling in both parties and among civil servants that the Brazilian trip would have been a valuable opportunity to promote Northern Ireland – but one that had the capacity to backfire.

Images of the two ministers enjoying corporate hospitality in Marfrig's box at the World Cup could have backfired if there was trouble on the streets at home.

"It could have smacked of fiddling while Rome burned," one source said.

Businessman Bill Jeffrey had accused the two ministers of taking part in a "junket" and the feeling was that this criticism could only get worse once they were out of the country.

There is, though, a sense of missed opportunity to network with Marfrig and other major South American companies seeking overseas and European expansion.

There are hopes that Marfrig will expand its operations in Northern Ireland and encourage other Brazilian firms to use Northern Ireland as their base for exports into the EU.

McGuinness draws England in Stormont sweepstake but wants 'orange men from Holland' to win 

FACTFILE

Marfrig is an official sponsor of World Cup, and Moy Park advertising can sometimes be seen on pitchside hoardings during games.

It controls most of Northern Ireland's chicken processing industry and has its European headquarters at Moy Park in Dungannon.

Exports to Brazil earned Northern Ireland an estimated £34.6m in 2013-14.

Invest Northern Ireland is supporting Brazilian projects expected to contribute another £9m to the local economy.

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