O'Neill brands trade delegation visit a 'major opportunity' to showcase 'unique' dual market access

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill has said the visit of a number of influential US businesspeople is a major opportunity for Northern Ireland to showcase its “unique” dual market access.

On Monday, a delegation of business and investment leaders from the US began a four-day visit to Northern Ireland, led by Joseph Kennedy III, the US special envoy to Northern Ireland for economic affairs.

They plan to meet a range of business, academic and civic representatives across the region.

Ms O’Neill said she was looking forward to meeting members of the delegation and that the visit was a chance to attract investment and create jobs in Northern Ireland.

“This week we will welcome a number of influential business leaders to the north and I look forward to meeting them for a series of discussions on potential investment,” she said.

“This trade delegation is a major opportunity to showcase the unique opportunities that we have here through our unique access to the EU and British markets.

“Continuing to attract investment, creating good jobs for the next generation and strengthening our economy will be our key focus over the coming days.”

The delegation visits Northern Ireland when it is without a functioning devolved government.

The DUP have been boycotting power-sharing institutions for more than a year in protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements outlined in the Protocol and subsequently the Windsor Framework.

Ms O’Neill, who would be appointed first minister in a reformed executive as leader of the largest party at the 2022 assembly election, again called for a return of government to maximise the opportunities presented by the visiting US delegation.

“Our priority is to build on the successes of previous US investment that has seen the creation of thousands of jobs and helped develop the north as a centre of excellence in many areas of technology,” she said.

“We must work together in a new Assembly to seize this moment to match the incredible talent and ambition of our young people, and ensure they have the best possible opportunities to reach their full potential in life.

“We need locally elected ministers around the Executive table and working together to champion these opportunities and seize the economic opportunities available to us.”

On Tuesday, Thomas P DiNapoli, New York state comptroller told the BBC that the New York State pension fund is to invest up to $50m (£41m) in Northern Ireland businesses.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said Mr DiNapoli’s announcement was “fantastic news”.

“Transatlantic business partnerships are vital to NI’s prosperity, and I look forward to highlighting NI’s potential to the delegation,” he wrote.

Other business leaders who are part of the group include Mark Hartney of Breakthrough Energy Ventures and John Murphy, president and chief financial officer at The Coca-Cola Company.

The visiting members attended an evening reception at Belfast City Hall hosted by Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Ryan Murphy.

The event was also attended by Mr Kennedy and a wide range of city and regional partners and business representatives.

Representing the city’s young leaders and strong talent pool at City Hall on Tuesday evening were recent graduates from Belfast City Council’s Employment Academies.

Mr Murphy said he had been looking forward to supporting this delegation since US President Joe Biden announced it during his visit to Belfast in April.

“It’s a welcome opportunity to celebrate the many very special connections we have with the US, from diplomatic relations to investment, knowledge sharing, tourism, education and cultural exchange,” he said.

“It’s given us a platform to proudly showcase our city’s transformation, our investment proposition, our strengths in tech, innovation, talent, education, the creative and screen industries, and more.”

Mr Murphy said during their short visit the US investors would learn about the long-term development plans for Belfast.

“We’ve also shared our exciting plans for our year of culture, Belfast 2024, hosting Euro 2028 and creating the landmark city centre visitor attraction, Belfast Stories,” he said.

“Our strength sectors are set for continued growth, thanks to the £1 billion Belfast Region City Deal programme of investment over the next decade – and we’re supporting that with skills programmes to connect people to new and better jobs and services.”

Roger Pollen, head of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Northern Ireland, said the visit was a “positive opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland”, but added that potential investors would be concerned about a lack of political stability in Northern Ireland.

“Of course, it would be much better if the Executive and Assembly were up and running, because investors prefer doing business in countries where there is political stability; however, businesses cannot wait indefinitely for politicians to sort out their differences,” he said.

“We have to get on with the work of creating jobs, encouraging innovation and maintaining Northern Ireland’s positive economic trajectory so we can build a prosperity agenda for the next 25 years.”

Chief executive of the NI Chamber Suzanne Wylie said their organisation was looking forward to “a series of important engagements” with the group.

“The arrival of such influential senior businesspeople is a chance to showcase the many opportunities for sound investments into Northern Ireland,” she said.

“At NI Chamber, we will embrace the chance to highlight these opportunities and intend to follow that up with specific support during and after the visit.”

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