By Ray O’Hanlon
The joint effort by the British government and Northern Ireland’s newly elected Assembly to present the North as a logical place for U.S. corporate investment opened in New York last week with a pitch blending economic incentives and emotive appeals for American help to underpin the fledgling peace.
The Northern Ireland Industrial Development Board’s "North American Marketing Campaign Roadshow" — powered up front by the highly symbolic political partnership of David Trimble and Seamus Mallon — was unveiled in a Manhattan hotel to an invited audience of close to 200.
On a day dominated by the sight of the erstwhile opponents side-by-side and virtually speaking the same lines, corporate America got its first taste of a three-week effort to present Northern Ireland as the best location in Europe to invest.
Mallon and Trimble were joined by North Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, and the North’s economics minister, Adam Ingram. Two members of the Clinton administration, deputy secretary of labour, Kitty Higgins and Jim Lyons, President Clinton’s special adviser on economic initiatives for Ireland, were also present to bolster the launch. Commerce Secretary William Daley is also due to lend his support to the roadshow as it moves from coast to coast.
The roadshow is visiting 11 cities in the U.S. and Canada while promoting the theme "Northern Ireland – Time for Your Business".
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The formal launching was steered by Alan Gillespie, chairman of the Northern Ireland Industrial Development board while the initial welcome to New York and the U.S. was delivered by New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani said he wanted to encourage companies in the U.S. and New York to strengthen their ties with Northern Ireland.
Mo Mowlam said it was now time for Northern Ireland to show a new face to North America, one that was not scared by violence but which was characterized by hope.
"If you want a gateway to Europe think Northern Ireland," Mowlam said. "We want jobs going hand in hand with the peace", she added.
Gordon Brown stressed Northern Ireland’s transport advantages, low tax rates, and highly educated and motivated workforce. This, along with easy access to the EU, made Northern Ireland an obvious location for additional U.S. investment above and beyond what is already there.
The pitch sounded similar to that presented in recent years in the U.S. by the Republic’s Industrial Development Authority. However, there was additionally the inevitable emotional overlay spawned by a Northern Ireland just emerging from 30 years of violence.
The SDLP’s Seamus Mallon, deputy first minister designate in the newly elected Assembly, described "a new country" where partnership had replaced division. Northern Ireland he said, is a place "that means business and wants to do business".
"You can help us seize the future," Mallon told the audience packing the Royal Ballroom in the Sheraton New York Hotel.
Mallon said that in the new Northern Ireland there would be "no glass ceilings".
Taking a line from former president Ronald Reagan, Mallon said it was his dream to see a shining city on the hill called Northern Ireland, a beacon to the rest of the world.
The UUP’s David Trimble, first minister designate in the assembly, said that it was the first time that he and Mallon had visited the U.S. together. It would not be the last as both men tried to secure a future for Northern Ireland.
Trimble said that Northern Ireland was now looking to the U.S. to match its political investment with renewed economic investment.
"In the language of industry, Northern Ireland has retooled and has new management elected by its people", he said.
Trimble cautioned that politics had not been abolished and that there would be bumps along the way. But he stressed that under the Good Friday agreement, nationalists and unionists would work together to foster a new stability.
Those who were concerned over the possibility of future political instability in Northern Ireland could lay their fears at rest, Trimble said.
Both Kitty Higgins and Jim Lyons, who is also U.S. Observer to the International Fund for Ireland, stressed the continued commitment of the Clinton administration to securing a better future for Northern Ireland.
"President Clinton and his team are with you all the way," Higgins said.
Lyons said that the best kept economic secret in Europe was Northern Ireland. "My job is to eliminate the secrecy," he said.
The Sheraton event took place on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Two days later, the roadshow opened its doors to corporate decision makers at the nearby Plaza Hotel.
After New York, the road show was slated for Philadelphia on the 12th and from there to, in order: Oct. 13 Boston, Oct. 14 Toronto, Oct. 16 Denver, Oct. 19 Minneapolis/St Paul, Oct. 21 Chicago, Oct. 22 Dallas, Oct. 26 Atlanta, Oct. 28 Seattle and Oct 29 San Jose, California.
By the end of this week, Mallon and Trimble are expected to return to Northern Ireland and be respectively replaced by Mark Durcan of the SDLP and the UUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, who will then take on the apparently contradictory role of pitching for Northern Ireland’s political and economic future while opposing the Good Friday agreement.