USA Visit, March 2024

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 8 April 2024.

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Photo of Cheryl Brownlee Cheryl Brownlee DUP 2:00, 8 April 2024

2. Ms Brownlee asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on their engagements in the United States of America in March 2024. (AQO 206/22-27)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

The deputy First Minister and I travelled to Washington DC for a series of St Patrick's Day engagements. We travelled from 13 to 17 March. We represented the four-party coalition of the Executive and their shared objectives as part of that engagement. It was our first international visit and an important opportunity to consolidate the strong relationship that our region enjoys with the US. That relationship was crucial to our peace process and continues today through investment, knowledge sharing and support. We continue to have access at the highest levels in the US, including a meeting with President Biden at the White House, to deliver a clear message that the Government here are back up and running. It is vital that we seek every opportunity to attract investment, grow our economy and deliver for our citizens.

Our visit focused on showcasing our local economy as a compelling investment opportunity and highlighting the many benefits of doing business here. We were also able to deliver those messages at key events such as the Ireland Funds event, the bureau breakfast and the special envoy's event. As well as having the round-table discussion with the US Chamber of Commerce and business leaders, events such as the Speaker of the House of Representatives luncheon and our fireside chat at Georgetown University, we had receptions hosted by both the British and Irish ambassadors to the US. That all gave us huge opportunities to further our engagements with some of the most influential decision makers so that they, too, can see the potential that we have to offer.

Photo of Cheryl Brownlee Cheryl Brownlee DUP

Thank you for the update. I welcome the positive announcement about the huge investment of the in-kind donation from the US computer software company Alteryx. How confident is the First Minister that we can build upon that fantastic, positive news for Northern Ireland?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

The Member referenced one of the companies that has chosen to invest here, which is really positive. I can tell the House that the whole four to five days that we were there were hugely beneficial for us. There was huge goodwill. The Chair of the Executive Office Committee was there also, as were the Education Minister, the Economy Minister and the Speaker. We took every platform and engagement open to us to sell our wares, as I described it.

On the investment potential that we have, sometimes those things do not come overnight. It is inevitable that you have to build diplomatic relationships and, equally, alongside that, economic opportunities. We were all on message in saying that we are open for business, that we have a unique selling point in terms of dual market access, that we have a young workforce and that we have a happy population, believe it or not — you would not believe that sometimes when you hear the media headlines. We had lots of really positive things to say. Given that we are such a small, outward-looking economy, it is really important, if we are to fulfil and reach our potential in terms of investing in the people whom we serve, that we take those opportunities. Our key message the whole way through was that it is about prosperity for our people.

I look forward to further engagements to follow up on the linkages that we made, including a visit from Joe Kennedy, I think, next week. That will be about furthering other opportunities and potentially having a future investment opportunity and perhaps even an advising delegation again. There will be further opportunities for us to go back again in order to follow up on some of those things.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the First Minister list any further investments that were secured as a result of her engagements in the US? We have heard of one. Are there others in the pipeline? Is it a strong pipeline?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Yes. The opportunity that we had six or seven weeks into a re-formed Executive was huge. As I said, the positivity was fantastic, not just from investors. We were there to say that we are open for business. I believe that there will be a lot more to come in the pipeline. The investment did not come just as a result of that visit a few weeks ago. That obviously furthered relations that were built. We had the investment conference and the Joe Kennedy delegation previous to that. It is exactly like a pipeline: it takes time to progress all those things. As I said, if we are to fulfil our ambition for our people and make this a more prosperous part of the world, we have to follow through on them. I am quite positive about what we can achieve.

It was important on the economic front. It was important for diplomatic relations. It was also important for philanthropy and looking towards other funds that are there that want to help us to deliver the things that we want to deliver here, particularly given the financial outlook that we have from our budget allocation. I suspect that, over time, we will hear many more positive announcements.

The deputy First Minister and I are determined to continue that work, as is our Economy Minister, who is determined to work with Invest NI, Enterprise Ireland and InterTradeIreland. Let us scope out massively all the opportunities that we have and make sure that we achieve better jobs, better-paid jobs and more jobs for the people whom we all serve.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

With the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people, what representations did you make to the powers that be in the United States to call for a ceasefire and for humanitarian aid for the impoverished people of Palestine, who are being slaughtered?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I absolutely concur with the Member about what is happening to the people of Palestine. The genocide must end, and it must end now. Six months on, it is harrowing to watch the scenes. The people in that region need support, an urgent ceasefire, humanitarian aid and a political solution. I, personally, took the opportunity, on two occasions, to say that directly to the President of the United States. We know that the United States has been a firm friend to the Irish peace process and helped us to achieve everything that we achieved 25 years ago. I asked that the same approach be applied to the Middle East to achieve an immediate ceasefire. I took two opportunities; it was a platform not to be missed to call for an immediate ceasefire on behalf of the people of Palestine. I took every opportunity that I had to do that.