Belfast Telegraph

First Ministers’ St Patrick’s week push for more US jobs

By Noel McAdam

A renewed push for new jobs in Northern Ireland is to be the main focus of St Patrick’s week events in Washington.

Despite the recession, the main message from political leaders will be that the province remains open for business.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are to fly out today for a hectic round of events centred on increasing inward investment from the United States.

They will point to the achievement of a four-year Budget last week as a sign of increasing political maturity and stability — even though it was opposed by two of the five Executive parties.

A White House meeting with President Barack Obama is being pencilled in for St Patrick’s Day this Thursday, although timing and arrangements have still to be finalised. But Stormont’s top two also have a session organised with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has visited Northern Ireland more than half-a-dozen times over the last decade, the last time during a five-day European tour.

It was Ms Clinton who took the unusual step of appointing |a special economic envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly, who is hosting a high-profile event tomorrow involving the United States Chamber of Commerce.

A number of senior business figures from both sides of the Atlantic are attending the gathering.

A Stormont source said: “This sort of event, focused on one area outside the confines of the US, has never happened before in this form.”

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness will also meet Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny for the first time since he was elected Taoiseach, at the annual American-Ireland fund gala dinner tomorrow night.

“It will not be anything formal, just an opportunity for a private talk,” a spokesman for the First and Deputy First Ministers’ Office added.

The NI Bureau, based in the US capital, is staging a breakfast-time event on St Patrick’s Day on the theme of ‘creative industries’ before the traditional events in the White House.

Two years ago then new First Lady Michelle Obama added her own touch when the water in the fountains on the north and south lawns of the White House turned green in honour of the day.

She said she had been inspired by St Patrick's Day celebrations in her hometown of Chicago, where the main city river is dyed green.

What now?

Wednesday, March 16

Meetings with Congressional leaders, including Peter King.

American-Ireland fund gala dinner. Meeting Enda Kenny.

Thursday, March 17

The NI Bureau hosts ‘creative industries’ event. Possible White House meeting with President Obama.

Friday, March 18

Meeting with Hillary Clinton.

Belfast Telegraph