Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland is one of the best for technology, says US ambassador

By John Mulgrew

The US government values a "strong United Kingdom in a strong EU", its ambassador to the UK has told the Belfast Telegraph.

And Matthew Barzun - who has worked closely with US President Barack Obama on both his election campaigns - said he would like to see "more trade and investment" between the US and Northern Ireland.

A Harvard graduate, the 44-year-old threw himself into politics following a career in the pioneering days of the internet in the early 1990s, before joining the Obama campaign in 2008.

On the increasingly thorny issue of a possible UK exit from the EU, he told the Belfast Telegraph: "Of course this is entirely a decision for the citizens of this country to figure out their relationship within Europe.

"We have no closer friend than the UK, so we value a UK that is a strong player on the world stage - that could be the United Nations Security Council, the G20, NATO, the European Union.

"In that context, we value a strong UK in a strong EU - but it is an internal matter for the UK."

Mr Barzun was selected by the US President as his National Finance Chair for his 2012 re-election campaign, before taking up his role as US Ambassador to the UK in 2013.

He resides in the auspicious surroundings of Winfield House - a neo-Georgian mansion set in more than 12 acres in London's Regent's Park, which since 1955 has been the official residence of whoever holds his title.

The seasoned technology head and politician was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as he launched TechCamp at City Hall.

The collaborative effort - involving Belfast City Council, the Northern Ireland Science Park, and the US Department of State - brings together technology experts and with civic organisations.

"President Obama believes in the incredible power of the open internet, and what it can do to unite societies and empower communities, and expand economic opportunities," he said.

Mr Barzun is a former tech expert and internet pioneer himself, having worked for one of the world's biggest technology websites - CNET - after finishing university and moving to San Francisco. He was just one of four staff at the time at the then fledgling site. The New York City-born father-of-three - who has been married to his wife Brooke since 1999 - said the US and UK's business relationship remained strong.

"It is very strong, if you look at the huge levels of investment in both countries. It's big, and vibrant, but we can always do more, and should do more."

Mr Barzun's a man who has appears to have a more relaxed approach to diplomacy - hosting casual jeans-and-jacket music events at his London home, drawing in the likes of The National and Ed Sheeran, as well as Hollywood stars such as Mark Ruffalo.

And the former US Ambassador to Sweden said Northern Ireland's own technology sector was "strong", with an influx of big name US firms setting up shop here in the last few years.

"Lots of them are impressed by the skill and loyalty of the workforce here," he said.

"Looking forward, we would like to see more trade and investment, not just in Northern Ireland, but with the EU as a whole."

And while he wouldn't be drawn on the hot topic of the devolution of corporation tax powers to the Assembly, he said it was something he would "watch closely".

Before heading off for a tour of the Game of Thrones set in the Titanic Quarter, he praised Northern Ireland's own technology industry and its foray into Hollywood.

"You are doing lots of things right, if you think about the tragedy of the Titanic, and the positive things that are being built on the back of that," he said.

Watch John Mulgrew's interview with US Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun at

Belfast Telegraph