This idea has been around for some months. The view behind it is that the future of peace in Northern Ireland is as much bound up in economics as it is in politics.
It has been noted on both sides of the Atlantic, and not without some concern, that the global economic downturn and the particular consequences of same for the island of Ireland have come at an especially critical moment for the North peace process and the shifting political tectonic plates that underpin it.
It goes without saying that a democratic society’s political life is generally less turbulent when the people living in it are enjoying the fruits of a prosperous economy.
The phenomenon is rooted in the old law of association that students of psychology learn about in their first year of study.
If the economy begins to falter, then, the effects on the society’s political life can be far reaching, even profound. In a society at peace and at ease with itself, this might lead to a change of governing party or parties.
In Northern Ireland, however, the potential effects of political turbulence could be considerably more radical than a change in direction for economic policy.
The peace process is a twin track. The political side of it is required to generate economic momentum benefiting all who live in northern society, while economic progress is required to steady the potential for volatile politics that was, is and will continue to be the North’s lot for the foreseeable future.
So what would an economic or business envoy do?
Well, there’s quite a few things that could be accomplished, not least the portraying of Northern Ireland as a profitable place for American investment.
That message is relayed across the U.S. each and every day by individuals and agencies such as Invest NI. But there’s a different dimension to the process of explaining Northern Ireland to Americans when the voice doing the explaining is itself American.
Who might the economic/business envoy be? There are any number of candidates. A few names that come to mind, for example, are John Cullinane in Massachusetts, Bill Flynn in New York, Jim Lamb of the Pittsburgh-based Ireland Institute, Frank Costello, formerly of Boston and now resident in Belfast, Bill McLaughin of the Irish American Business Chamber and Network in Philadelphia, Paul O’Dwyer, president of the Irish Chamber of Commerce USA in New England, Joseph Leary, president of the Irish American Partnership in Boston, NYC first deputy comptroller Mary Louise Mallick, or venture capitalist Gerry McCrory, a Belfast native now based in Philadelphia.
There are many, many more men, and women, who could fit the bill, bringing to bear economic and business experience with a personal interest in the peace process, and the economics underpinning it.