By Harry Keaney
Unionists and Republicans joined forces last week in an effort to seek the Northern Ireland peace dividend — in North America.
Sinn Féin’s vice president, Pat Doherty, and the Unionist minister for enterprise, trade and investment in the new Northern Ireland assembly, Sir Reg Empey, visited the U.S. and Canada to promote investment in the North.
Among the cities they visited were Washington, D.C., Boston and Toronto. They were in Denver on Thursday and San Jose on Friday.
Also in the visiting delegation were Sean Neeson, leader of the Alliance Party; David McClarty, Ulster Unionist, and Dr. Alasdair McDonnell of the SDLP. Among those who attended an Irish American Partnership luncheon in Boston on Wednesday was the Republic’s minister for marine and fisheries, Frank Fahey.
"The general message that we’re trying to send out is that Northern Ireland plc. is out aggressively seeking investment in the marketplace and everybody — and that means former enemies as well as friends — is pulling together," Empey said.
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Empey said that Canadian firms had made an "immense contribution" to the North.
While in Toronto, members of the group visited the headquarters of Nortel in Brampton, Ontario. Nortel is involved in a new center for communications at the University of Ulster, which connects the engineering and software departments at Queens University and the University of Ulster with Nortel.
During the North’s group’s visit to Denver, it was announced that the U.S. online customer management company TeleTech Holdings is to invest £11 million in a new call center at Duncairn Gardens in Belfast, creating more than 900 jobs during the next two years.
"We opted for Belfast because it provided the right combination of flexible, highly motivated available people with a robust and resilient telecommunications network," Scott Thompson, CEO and president of TeleTech said.
Eye on the economy
For some time, there has been concern in Ireland that inflation might just be the needle to prick the Celtic Tiger bubble. However, some leading commentators have discounted such a possibility, saying this was a misreading of the situation. Now comes the news that the Irish government’s own prediction on inflation was wrong, prompting unions to demand a review of a recent pay deal.
Ireland’s Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats coalition government had expected inflation to average 3.5 percent this year. But a report, the Economic Review and Outlook 2000, published by Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy, revised the average to 5.25 percent. However, even this figure may be understated because it is based on the assumption that interest rates, oil prices and the euro exchange rate will remain unchanged.
Recent figures released by Ireland’s central statistics office show that manufacturing prices grew by 5.6 percent in the year to July. Manufacturing prices are often a pointed to future inflation. Also, German producer price inflation hit a nine-year high in July, leading to speculation that the European Central Bank will soon raise interest rates in the Euro zone.
Despite rising inflation, the Economic Review and Outlook 2000 report shows the Irish economy in powerful form, with growth rates revised upward to 10.55 percent. Indeed, a surge in the value of Irish exports for the first five months of this year is now expected to create a 13-percent expansion of gross domestic product this year. This would be the highest growth rate in the world, according to news reports in Ireland. By comparison, Germany, France and Britain, are all expecting growth rates of about 3 percent.
The provisional figure for the value of Irish exports for the month of June is £6.15 billion, 36 percent more than in June the previous year.
Farewell to Foley
It was a surprise tribute to departing Heineken USA boss Michael Foley and it was a boon to GOAL USA, the U.S. arm of the Ireland-based charity GOAL. On Thursday evening in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, friends of Foley gathered for a $100,000 dinner. The reason: Foley, president of White Plains-based Heineken, is returning to Ireland to become group chief executive of Aer Lingus. He will be leading the Irish airline company during its high-profile public offering process, which is expected to take place next year.