Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Viewpoint: Brown controls the cutting edge

Once again, Northern Ireland steps on to the world stage — this time for all the right reasons — with a ground-breaking investment conference attended by prime ministers and some of America's most influential businessmen and women.

Their response shows just how much goodwill there is towards one peace process that is really working.

The presence of Gordon Brown and the new Taoiseach, Brian Cowen — in his first major public appearance — is a guarantee of the serious nature of the event.

Both are former finance ministers, who know the way business works and, together with our own Economy Minister Nigel Dodds, want to create the right commercial conditions for the development of Northern Ireland in the years to come.

This is hardly the best time, to say the least, for business people to be committing themselves to large-scale investment.

The credit crunch, coupled with rising food and energy prices, is curbing growth and increasing inflationary pressures around the world, with dire results.

Yet the delegates who are seeing Northern Ireland at its best will already be looking ahead to better times, when the graphs turn upwards. They want to know where the best incentives are to be had, where the best qualified workforces are available and where there is the best access to the decision-makers.

That is our big advantage, in a small, outward-looking province which today has the interest and support of people and nations around the world.

Everyone knows how our peace process has grown and taken root, in a devolved Assembly, after nearly 40 years of conflict.

They want to see it even more firmly established — and only the prospect of good jobs, widely distributed, can do that effectively.

Already the one-year-old coalition government has been rewarded for its determination to put the past behind it. Only last month, it received a massive vote of confidence from the New York pensions fund, which is due to invest $150m here in infrastructure and property projects.

Michael Bloomberg's visit to Titanic Quarter, a prime tourism spot, is an indication of the shape of things to come.

The British Government is still our greatest source of revenue, so Gordon Brown will again be urged to make sure that Northern Ireland has the most competitive investment climate in the United Kingdom. While this is true, there is still a gap between tax incentives in Northern Ireland and the Republic which Mr Brown will be asked to address.

Just as important is the involvement of Brian Cowen in the conference, demonstrating that the departure of Bertie Ahern does not mean there will be any diminution of the north-south co-operation that has underpinned the peace process. Both parts of Ireland have always had the closest ties with America, and now the expectation is that they can be harnessed in new ways to provide the foundations for a better future.

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