Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Peter Robinson rounds on 'whingers'

First Minister slams ‘naysayers’ critical of trade mission to Americas

First Minister Peter Robinson has hit out at the "whingers and whiners back home" who have attacked his trade and diplomatic mission to the United States and Brazil.

He used a breakfast meeting in the US capital Washington to angrily hit back at critics who say the 13-day mission is a waste of money.

He and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness flew back to Belfast last night after visiting Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Rio in Brazil, and Los Angeles and Washington in the US.

On Tuesday the pair had a private meeting with President Obama at the White House in which recent troubles on the streets of Belfast and dissident activity were discussed.

Mr Robinson told an audience of diplomats, business people, politicians and community workers that he would prove all his critics wrong. "I know there are some whingers and whiners back home who question us for undertaking such missions and going out to market Northern Ireland to the world," he said.

"Those same people once told us we were wasting our time.

"But we have succeeded in bringing back more jobs than in any time in the history of Northern Ireland.

"We have brought back literally hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment, but they're still at it, but so are we, and we are ready to prove them wrong again."

The First Minister told the Belfast Telegraph that "naysayers" had more interest in the price of the hotel he was staying in than the investment he was working on and alleged journalists had exaggerated the cost of accommodation by more than tenfold.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told the audience at the Corcoran Gallery of Art that despite recent dissident activity and flag protests "the peace process is rock solid; it is going nowhere but forward".

"The sad events of the last couple of months alongside the activities of people who describe themselves as IRA this or IRA that has represented a real challenge to the peace process and it is a challenge that can only be met by us in Government standing united full-square behind the peace process."

Under the banner The World Is Coming – 2013, both ministers told the Washington audience that the G8 summit, the World Police and Fire Games, Londonderry's year as UK City of Culture and the Fleadh in that city represented a huge vote of confidence in Northern Ireland. Mr Robinson said: "The choice of Northern Ireland sends out a message around the world about the high level of confidence that now exists in our administration and our institutions."

Home or away, same result is key

By Mike Gilson

There's a hell of a lot of canapés to get through and the wine does flow freely. Trips around the world like that just conducted by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are bound to raise eyebrows.

Politicians face uncomfortable questions on these trips from time to time. So it is quite surprising that the First Minister hit out at "critics" of the trip – by which he probably means opposition politicians, journalists and Stephen Nolan – to an audience that would have been largely bemused.

That he was frustrated is in no doubt. And in some ways you can understand why. Listening to Ciaran Sheehan over breakfast, it's clear he has no doubt about the worth of such visits. The chairman of charity Young Enterprise NI spent his own money to come to Washington on the coat-tails of the ministers. He spent four days furiously swapping contact cards and trying to drum up cash for his work to teach children from deprived areas to be entrepreneurs.

And it remains true that Ireland generally, and Northern Ireland specifically, punch above their weight in the US. You wouldn't have a St George's Day reception for the English at the White House such as the St Patrick's Day function I attended on Tuesday.

President Obama spoke warmly of "the thread of green woven into the red, white and blue" of the Stars and Stripes, and plenty of US politicians were willing to talk of the peace process and their part in it. So there is capital to be worked and few would begrudge our political leaders trying to exploit it.

A 13-day trip that includes Brazil, and LA, home of the TV series Game Of Thrones, much of which is filmed in Northern Ireland, is not too much to ask, is it?

The truth is the Peter and Martin on tour show is pretty impressive. They seem to get on and talk with passion about back home.

Here may be the problem. Some critics might wonder why if they can put on such a show abroad they cannot do it back in Belfast?

Certainly, you'd never guess in Washington that just a couple of months ago the pair stopped appearing together in public.

The best way to silence doubters is to treat home and away as the same game. Oh, and to bring back new jobs, of course.

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