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Northern Ireland is 'open for business', Stormont leaders tell US investors at ceremony

Northern Ireland is 'open for business', Stormont leaders tell US investors at ceremony

US investors have been told that Northern Ireland is “open for business” as the region's political leadership spoke at a major event in Washington DC.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy Prime Minister Emma Little-Pingelly made the comments at the National Ireland Funds Gala, a key part of the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations in the US city.

Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party took center stage at the event on Wednesday, which was also attended by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaking at the National Ireland Funds Gala (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Varadkar is on a week-long visit to Washington where he will speak with US President Joe Biden at the White House on a variety of issues including economic relations between the two countries and the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

Representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive, which was restored six weeks ago after a long-running boycott by the Democratic Unionist Party over post-Brexit trade arrangements, have arrived in Washington DC to engage with investors, community groups and politicians.

Ms O'Neill said Stormont representatives were in the US to defend Northern Ireland and set shared priorities.

“We are also here making a clarion call to all American investors that we are open for business, and that government is back at work — it is back at work again,” she said.

Ms Little Pengelly said Northern Ireland was a place of “great hope, determination and ambition”.

“We want to work side by side, side by side, on this investment and building this amazing future that we know in Northern Ireland,” she added.

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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland praised the two leaders' message to the American public.

Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little Pengelly
Ms O'Neill and Ms Little Pengelly confirmed they were in the US to defend Northern Ireland and set shared priorities (Niall Carson/PA)

Speaking to the PA news agency, Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Two amazing women are leading their nation, bringing a positive message about the future of what Northern Ireland can achieve.

“I don't think you could ask for a better message for this audience.”

Mr Heaton-Harris said he would use his time in the US to stress that Northern Ireland has unique economic opportunities and that the UK Government will “always support” the region.

Asked whether he felt the Westminster administration had to catch up with the Irish Government's announcements on investment in projects in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Secretary said: “I think we are very comfortable with the £14.8 billion (€17 billion).” ) Block funding and the £3.3 billion we have held on to get the Executive back to work.

During his speech at the ceremony, Varadkar said there was “new hope and a new beginning” for Northern Ireland after power-sharing was restored.

“We will do everything we can to help build and make the idea of ​​a better future a reality for everyone,” he said.

The Prime Minister told the crowd that Palestinian civilians were being subjected to “humiliated and starved” during the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Varadkar has repeatedly said he will tell the US president that the Irish people strongly believe there must be an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

He told the audience: “We, as Europeans and Americans, are at least partly responsible for the unrest in the region. We have a duty to do everything in our power to bring peace and justice to the Holy Land.”

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The Taoiseach's visit to the United States
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald speaks to the media at the ceremony (Niall Carson/PA)

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald defended the party's attendance at US events, amid calls for Irish politicians to boycott Washington's trip to Gaza.

McDonald told reporters at the black-tie event, which costs $1,000, that she would “talk to the devil himself” to reach a ceasefire.

She said: “I feel a great sense of responsibility to do everything in my power to reach a ceasefire and support the Palestinian people.”

The gala raised $1.2 million for the Ireland Foundation, which works to promote peace, culture, education and community development across the island of Ireland and around the world.

Mr Varadkar and the Northern Irish political leadership were due to continue their communications around Washington DC on Thursday.

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