Belfast Telegraph

Outgoing NI bureau chief 'worked his way up' through civil service

Norman Houston
Norman Houston
Emma Deighan

By Emma Deighan

Northern Ireland's main representative in Washington, Norman Houston, is stepping down from the role after 12 years, it has emerged.

And now his role as director of the Northern Ireland Bureau in North America in Washington DC is being advertised.

The NI Bureau is the diplomatic mission of the NI Executive in the United States and Canada, working to bolster economic, educational, cultural and community links between Northern Ireland and North America.

Mr Houston (60) worked as deputy director of the bureau from 1998 until 2002. It's not clear what Mr Houston's plans are for the future.

He has worked with US presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump during his tenure.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last summer, the former Larne High School pupil said he left school after his O-levels for financial reasons, applying to the Northern Ireland Civil Service's Foreign Office as a clerk.

That was back in 1975 and from then he said he "worked my way up", adding: "But I always wanted to go to university and get a degree, so in the early years of my marriage I studied for six years with the Open University and got a first-class honours in modern history."

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Discussing his role over the years, Mr Houston said: "I think I've got one of the best jobs in the Civil Service. We have what's really a mini-embassy for Northern Ireland.

"We're based in Washington and New York but we do a lot of work in Boston and other major cities. We also work in Canada, especially in Toronto. There are actually quite a lot of Northern Ireland ex-pats living there.

"A lot of people we deal with in America are third, fourth-generation Irish/Northern Irish.

"But in Toronto many of the people we work with were actually born back at home and have lived in Canada for a number of years."

He said at the time that the absence of an Executive made the job more difficult.

He added: "It's challenging without the Executive because ministers coming in are our key to access the administration - including the current Trump administration. However, we do manage to keep the access up. We're constantly speaking to the Hill, we're constantly speaking to the Trump administration and to wider Irish America."

Mr Houston described the lack of an Executive as "the elephant in the room" during events last year to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

"The anniversary has given us a sort of lifeline in keeping our role up. It would be better, though, if it was a politician or a minister sitting at the other side of the table. But by the same token we're making sure we're not left out," he said.

Belfast Telegraph