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NI Bureaux: Washington and China

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 3rd October 2016.

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Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP 2:15 pm, 3rd October 2016

4. Mr Robinson asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the work of the Northern Ireland bureaux in Washington DC and China. (AQO 355/16-21)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Having just returned from the United States, I can testify to the ability of the Northern Ireland bureau in Washington to represent our interests at the highest level, in partnership with Invest Northern Ireland and Tourism Ireland. That strong working bond between the three offices ensures maximum impact, not just in the United States but in Canada. In the two years that it is has been operational, the Executive bureau in Beijing has established excellent working relationships with key national and provincial government bodies. I am looking forward to developing these relationships when the deputy First Minister and I visit China in December.

Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP

I thank the First Minister for her answer. Does she agree that the bureaux will play an increasingly important role in attracting investment and jobs to all areas of Northern Ireland, including the north-west of the Province?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I thank the Member for his question. Indeed, the bureaux perform a critical role for all the people of Northern Ireland. It hosts Executive Ministers and Assembly delegations when they go to the United States — I am speaking about the Washington bureau — and it has hosted many other delegations from Northern Ireland schools, universities and business. That bureau provides a very clear view of what is happening in the United States and tries to exert influence by bringing forward what is happening in Northern Ireland — in modern-day Northern Ireland, because it is very important that people have an understanding of what is going on here now.

The deputy First Minister and I will go to China at the beginning of December to open our office in Beijing. We will use it to make further contacts in, and inroads into, the Chinese market. We are very much looking forward to doing that. We had a good opportunity to speak with our consul general, Madam Wang, last week. The Chinese are looking forward to hosting us, and we hope that it will be a very successful visit.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

How will these offices be affected by the departure of Stephen Grimason?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

They will not be.

[Laughter.]

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

Going beyond the two bureaux, can the First Minister comment on the importance of international relations to our economic development?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

It is critical that we continue to go across the world to sell Northern Ireland as a good place not only to invest in but to visit. I am pleased to say that the Economy Minister is in the Middle East to continue to build on the links that have been developing over a period of time. Of course, Invest Northern Ireland has a range of offices right across the globe, as well as Tourism Ireland, which, as you know, sells Northern Ireland across the world as a tourist destination. What a story they have to tell now; a very positive story about Northern Ireland. The fact is that Titanic Belfast is now Europe's leading visitor attraction. How wonderful is it to be able to say that? The fact is that the multi-award-winning 'Game of Thrones' happens here in Northern Ireland. It has won more Emmys than any other programme in history. As well as that is the fact that Northern Ireland is number one globally when it comes to financial technology investment. It is number one in the world. Now, that is not something that you will see in an Opposition press statement, but it is something that I will talk about all day long.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

In her last answer, the Minister referred to the Executive's having a negotiating hand in relation to Brexit. That belies what she has just said in the Chamber and is in contrast to what the deputy First Minister actually said today outside this room. How can we make best use of our diplomats in Brussels, Washington and Beijing if we do not give them a strong, coherent position on Brexit, particularly when people internationally are very keen to help Northern Ireland in light of our experience with the peace process?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

As someone who has just come back from the United States, I want to tell the Member that it is not actually all about Brexit. It is not actually all about Brexit. It is about the fact that we continue to have — he should know this being the former skills Minister — the raw talent here that people are looking for. We have the value and the fact that our attrition rates are very low. Come April 2018, we will have corporation tax devolved to Northern Ireland. So we will have the talent, the value and the tax. None of that — none of that — is dependent on our position on the European Union.