Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Viewpoint: Take this message to America

Since the Rev Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness took office in the power-sharing Assembly in May, there have been many memorable moments. But nothing, surely, will compare with the images of the planned meeting at the White House this Friday involving the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and President George Bush.

The event promises to be the climax of this week's joint visit by Messrs Paisley and McGuinness to New York and Washington. Although the objective is to convince America that Northern Ireland is open for business - and to drum up support for next May's US-NI investment conference - the focus of attention is bound to be on the chemistry between the two politicians.

The event promises to be the climax of this week's joint visit by Messrs Paisley and McGuinness to New York and Washington. Although the objective is to convince America that Northern Ireland is open for business - and to drum up support for next May's US-NI investment conference - the focus of attention is bound to be on the chemistry between the two politicians.

In common with people here, Americans will no doubt be intrigued to gauge how genuine the engagement is between the duo, irreverently dubbed the "Chuckle Brothers" back home.

Is it really possible the one-time fiery orator and unionist hardliner has developed an accord with a former IRA leader who is still a die-hard republican? Have the two former foes managed to strike up a personal camaraderie?

To judge from what has taken place over the past six months, the answer must be yes. So far, there have been no handshakes but a mutual respect has evolved, and a commitment made to work together for the good of the community.

Seeing is believing, however, and the bonhomie which the two politicians can be expected to exhibit in New York and Washington this week will have more impact that a hundred Press statements. The smiling faces should convince even the most sceptical of Americans that Northern Ireland has genuinely entered a new era.

That said, there is business to be done and the hope must be that Northern Ireland's new-found stability will be a major factor in winning fresh US investment for the province. An opportunity has been created, and must be exploited.

Even without a reduced rate of corporation tax, Northern Ireland has much to offer in terms of our skills base, commonality of language and availability of labour. While everyone still hopes that the Varney Review will later this month point the way to a tax break, peace and stable government should tick two important boxes.

Support for next May's US-NI investment conference in Belfast must be harnessed at meetings with the business community, politicians and the media. Ministers Paisley, McGuinness and Nigel Dodds - who is taking part in the New York leg of the trip - must make their presence felt.

Although Northern Ireland has changed, the economy is still under-performing. Unless more investment can be secured and jobs created, there is a danger that things will unravel. That is the message that must be hammered home.

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