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£380m US boost for the economy

By Noel McAdam

The biggest ever public investment in Northern Ireland, which could be worth up to $750m (almost £380m), was being officially announced in New York today.

First Minister Ian Paisley believes it will pave the way for next month's US Economic Conference which he said could represent the turning point for the province's battered economy.

And it also seems likely to emerge as the high point for the DUP leader's term in office with Martin McGuinness, just a few weeks before he stands down.

Having secured relative political stability, as he sees it, with Sinn Fein support for policing, Mr Paisley's main priority has been finding a way to kick-start the 'engine' of the NI economy.

The announcement is also designed to achieve the momentum the Executive hoped for in the run-up to the May 7-9 conference.

Details were being kept under wraps, but the Belfast Telegraph understands a special company is to be established which will have its headquarters in Belfast.

While based on private equity, it is to be called the Emerald Investment Development Fund.

Private sources said it could initially involve around $$150m from pension funds in the United States.

But if the initial tranche of investment proves successful, further sums, possibly up to $$750m, could be available.

Mr Paisley, who has been in the US all week, and Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness were expected to attend the formal announcement later today.

Stormont sources insisted they could make no comment ahead of what was being described in NY as an "unprecedented" announcement.

Mr Paisley, Finance Minister Peter Robinson - expected to take over as DUP leader on Monday - and Mr McGuinness, among others, have been working behind the scenes for several months to persuade hard-nosed Stateside businessmen to invest in Northern Ireland.

"It is a huge vote of confidence in the Northern Ireland economy. These are not the sort of people who take risks with their money," one source said.

Mr Paisley said he believed next month's conference will be an " historic event" which will be "the turning in the road for us as far as our economy is concerned".

Speaking at a dinner in Washington, he said: "I have not come

here as a beggar. I have come to say, if you help us, you'll be helping yourselves.

"We want you to come and share in the possibility of bringing Northern Ireland back in this world of ours to the place it once had."

It is understood Executive Ministers were given details of the package at their meeting yesterday, but warned that going public too early could affect the pension funds involved on the stock exchange.

Then came an invitation from New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jnr, in which it was announced he would hold a press conference with the two leaders.

For the Big Apple, today's announcement symbolises the considerable change in Northern Ireland, since the city in the past helped lead the McBride principles campaign for US businesses currently operating in the province.

Belfast Telegraph


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