U.S. Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly underlined the importance of continued economic development in the North on Monday. Both Clinton and Kelly avoided commenting on the current political challenges facing the Northern Ireland Assembly, however.
“I think Secretary Clinton was very careful to make it clear in her speech that she saw the matters of policing and justice as very important but ultimately a matter for the Northern Assembly itself to resolve,” Kelly told the Irish Voice during an interview on Tuesday.
“I think that the invited American business leaders were very impressed with what they saw when they heard from Northern Ireland’s business leaders. I’m confident that over the medium to long term that will yield results for the economy in Northern Ireland.”
Over 30 business leaders drawn from North America and Northern Ireland agreed to participate in two joint economic investment groups going forward. “We had over a dozen CEOs travel from America to Belfast, and the night of the roundtable we had a working dinner with all of them that lasted three hours,” said Kelly.
“I think it was a very successful visit. We had a very good dialogue with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness. The secretary was phenomenally helpful in bringing the additional focus to the economic and inward investment program that she’s asked me to establish in my role as envoy.”
Clinton’s visit to Belfast underlined her continuing commitment to the region, Kelly said. American business leaders who participated in the program were asked to use their contacts to help bring further attention to Northern Ireland, and to explain why it’s a good idea for people to invest there.
“It’s important to say that it’s a two way street,” said Kelly. “There’s an awful lot of work going on in Northern Ireland that could be impactful in America. We have identified the areas of progress where there’s an opportunity for inward investment to a considerable degree. Those four areas are financial services, business services, information technology and connected health.”
The business attendees who traveled to Belfast were pre-selected by Kelly at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York last month, where the North’s first and deputy first ministers, Robinson and McGuinness, also met with them. The group of U.S. business leaders then flew to Belfast with a week’s notice -- and at their own expense -- to participate in meetings.
“Each of the business leaders have committed to this going forward, and so now we’re going to run this like a business,” said Kelly. “We’ll have group calls, individual working groups for each of the people involved, we’ll focus on specific areas of opportunity within the four areas I’ve mentioned. It’s off to a great start.”
Kelly admitted that a stable political environment increases investor confidence to invest in a region, encouraging political and economic progress at the same time.
“(Government agency) Invest Northern Ireland’s job and my job is to try and bring whatever additional resources we can in a focused way to create more investment,” said Kelly.
“I spent most of my time so far listening and learning and getting educated. I’ve also spent a good bit of my time trying to come up with initiatives that would quickly draw attention to our goals. I was appointed on September 11 and in a short period of time we’ve managed to get a significant amount of attention.”
Kelly underlined that he was not a politician or a political envoy so he would not get involved in political questions, but he had every confidence that the political leadership in Northern Ireland would work its way through the current set of political issues whilst he focused on the economic ones.
“I’m confident as we go forward that we’ll resolve any issues that are there,” Kelly added.