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Robinson and McGuinness meet Clinton

By Jim Dee

The First and Deputy First Ministers yesterday capped their four-day Washington visit by meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the chairman of the US agency tasked with tracking how Barack Obama’s massive $787bn economic stimulus package has been spent.

Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, gave Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness a breakdown of how America’s stimulus effort was constructed and which economic sectors were targeted.

The ministers had sought the meeting in the hope of getting some stimulus advice and tips.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after the meeting, Mr Robinson said that the briefing was very helpful.

“It was a good meeting,” he said. “We’re looking to see what kinds of applications there might be for Northern Ireland to increase transparency about the spending of public funds.”

The February 2009 stimulus bill was passed a month after President Obama took office. Most Republicans opposed it.

However, many economists believe that it played a key role in preventing the recession from morphing into a full-blown depression.

The $787bn package included $288bn in tax cuts, $224bn for entitlement programmes such as unemployment benefits, and $275bn in government loans, grants and contracts.

Apart from the buzz created by President Obama’s unexpected announcement of his May trip to Ireland, this year’s St Patrick’s Day events in Washington were more low-key than in past years, when American interest in the peace process was at a peak.

However, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness have insisted that the trip was worthwhile.

Mr Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph that, in regards to networking in the US capital’s halls of power, he and Mr McGuinness had “probably talked to more Senators and Congressmen and Governors on this trip than we had on previous ones”.

The last stop of their visit was a brief 15-minute courtesy call to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met with the pair despite having her hands full dealing with issues such as the implementation of the UN’s newly-declared no-fly zone of Libya.

Peter Robinson said that the fact that Clinton made the time for the meeting underscored her continuing commitment to Northern Ireland.

“We talked about a range of issues,” he said. “Obviously, the economy and matters of security more generally. We touched on the International Fund for Ireland Funding and the prospect of a presidential visit.”

Belfast Telegraph


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