Belfast Telegraph

Executive spent quarter of its gift budget on sculpture for Mrs Clinton

 

By Michael Shiels McNamee

New figures have revealed that almost a quarter of the Executive's spending on gifts for foreign dignitaries went on a sculpture given to Hillary Clinton.

The bronze designed by internationally renowned sculptor Maurice Harron - known for his Hands Across the Divide statue in Londonderry - was given to Mrs Clinton during a visit in December 2012.

Figures released to the Belfast Telegraph following a Freedom of Information request show gifts given out by the Executive between its establishment in 2007 and collapse in January of 2017.

During the visit the US Secretary of State met the then First Minister and Deputy First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

Mr Robinson noted at the time: "Northern Ireland has undergone a remarkable transformation since her first visit in 1995, much of which is in no small way the result of her dedication and commitment to building a dynamic economy."

The bespoke artwork, entitled 'Agreement', consists of a sculpture of two women and one man and was given to Secretary Clinton for her "exceptional contribution and continued support for our communities".

At a cost of £2,900, the piece is almost 20 times as expensive as the second most expensive gift given during the period - a print of the Dark Hedges costing £150 given on separate occasions to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016 and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in 2015.

During this time the maximum spend on gifts works out at £12.259.56, meaning the presentation for Mrs Clinton accounted for just under a quarter of all spending on gifts.

Exact figures are given for many of the presents listed.

But for others the Executive simply lists estimated value ranges. The maximum spend figure is reached by taking the maximum estimated figure for each gift.

The Executive Office said: "The exchanging of gifts with visiting government dignitaries is established diplomatic practice across the world and is universally accepted as an acknowledgement of welcome and goodwill. Gifts from the Executive Office are sourced locally where possible."

In total, gift bundles were given on 179 occasions.

The figures show presents were given more frequently to representatives of China than any other country, including a number of items given out by the Northern Ireland Bureau in China.

The Executive Office added: "We have welcomed many senior dignitaries from China in the past three years and, in Chinese culture, the giving and receiving of gifts is particularly important and is hugely symbolic in defining relations."

The gift given most frequently was the book The House On The Hill, while other presentations included 35 pieces of Tyrone cut glass, more than 15 bottles of whiskey, mostly Bushmills, and 13 prints of Derry's Peace Bridge.

Belfast Telegraph

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