Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness was in New York March 16 to announce a $30 million investment by the New York state pension system in a private equity fund for Northern Ireland.

The announcement was made at the offices of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli during McGuinness’ St. Patrick’s trip to the U.S. with Northern First Minister Peter Robinson.

The pension money comes from U.S. public workers and will be targeted at areas of long-term disadvantage in the north, McGuinness said.

“The comptroller has targeted these funds to areas of long term disadvantage,” said McGuinness. “This is recognition that these are areas of opportunity. Coming as it does in the midst of such challenging economic times, it will be welcome news indeed for private companies who are seeking investment to provide growth potential.’”

The $30 million investment was also a massive vote of confidence in the Northern Ireland peace process, McGuinness added.

Senior New York public officials including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Human Rights Activist Kerry Kennedy joined McGuinness on the podium.

Agreeing with McGuinness’ assessment that the peace process was the only way forward in the north, Quinn thanked DiNapoli for making the investment.

“This shows the road to peace is irreversible. This will go a long way to paving that road to peace. It also sends a message of equality, for there to be peace there also have to be justice in the economy. People have to work. That’s the way we will keep the peace.”

DiNapoli said the investment was the result of an extensive review process over many months.

“In the face of this very difficult investment market, we have to pursue long-term investments that will position the fund for strong long-range returns. This investment positions the fund to partner in the opportunities Northern Ireland’s future will bring,” he said.

Meanwhile, McGuinness sought to play down the threat to the peace process from recent dissident violence in the north.

McGuinness said the united response from political leaders of the two communities had shown the strength of the peace process.

“If anything, the activities of last week and our response to it has actually strengthened that process. We have to keep all of this in perspective. The truth is those attacks were the work of a tiny micro group with absolutely no support in the community,” he said. The average age of the rioters in Lurgan was between 15 and 18.

“Even within the 300 or so estimated dissidents, the number of people who would lift a gun or plant a bomb are very, very tiny, in my view.”

McGuinness said, “The reality is that we are charged with taking forward one of the most successful peace processes in the world today. I am not concerned that we are going to go back. We can only go back if we fall apart and I think that unity is our strength.

“I think that Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party, Reg Empey of the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Fein are all rock solid in our support for the Assembly and the government with which we are charged to take forward.”

McGuinness and Robinson spent part of last week in California on a business mission, before traveling to New York for a series of engagements.  They met with President Obama in the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.