BELFAST — U.S. economic envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III told an audience of visiting investors Wednesday that the feud-prone British territory was “ripe for investment” — even though nearly nine months after taking office, he still hasn’t figured it out. down just one new dollar for the place.
This lack of confirmation from Kennedy, the former Massachusetts congressman and President Joe Biden’s choice to influence progress in Belfast, was part of the broader theme of lack of investment at the Summit on investment in Northern Ireland.
The event, envisioned by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as a showcase of economic opportunities following February’s conclusion of the Windsor trade deal with the European Union, instead cast an unwelcome spotlight on the region’s continuing political dysfunction .
Democratic Unionist leader Jeffrey Donaldson was also at the event. His Protestant, pro-Brexit British party has spent the last year blocking the formation of a cross-community government with Irish Catholic leaders, the central goal of the 1998 Northern Ireland peace deal.
Sunak had hoped Donaldson would lift his boycott after the Windsor framework breakthrough, but the DUP leader said he would continue to block any government stimulus because the Windsor agreement – which must be implemented in ports from Northern Ireland next month – would reduce but still require EU checks. some goods shipped from Britain to be sold here. The impasse leaves potential investors without credible government partners at Stormont in Belfast, only with Sunak’s often distracted administration in London.
Kennedy, appointed in December with a mission to attract more investment from US companies to this part of the UK, argued that the particular outcome of Brexit for Northern Ireland – still subject to EU rules EU on goods that the rest of the UK is no longer required to follow – made this situation difficult. “all the more attractive” for American companies.
Indeed, the Windsor Framework allows Northern Ireland to ship goods without barriers to the neighboring Republic of Ireland and the wider EU, with its almost 450 million citizens, as well as to the rest of the UK’s 65 million people.
And Kennedy insisted that the lack of a functioning government in Northern Ireland would not deter American businesses from choosing it.
He presented Northern Ireland’s political and social divisions as no worse or less attractive than the Republican and Democratic divisions in America.
Referring to the collapse of power sharing in Belfast, Kennedy said: “Would we like it if things were better?” Of course. Do I wish things were easier in the United States? Yes, on many levels and in different ways.
But potential investors at Wednesday’s event “weren’t necessarily deterred because the politics are difficult.” Politics is difficult in many places. Either way, there are plenty of opportunities here.
While about 230 U.S. companies, including Citi, Allstate and Seagate, already have bases in Northern Ireland, Kennedy said he was confident he could expand that list, starting with leading a U.S. trade delegation to Northern Ireland. North at the end of next month.
Speaking to British Investment Minister Dominic Johnson, Kennedy said he wished the mission had coincided with Wednesday’s event. “We’ve really tried to align our efforts with yours. Unfortunately, for bureaucratic reasons we were unable to do so.”