Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Question 8: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is committed to lobbying the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to ensure that there continues to be a United States Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20123/11]
During his two years as US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly invested considerable time and energy in a range of initiatives to attract new investment to Northern Ireland and to develop relationships which I believe will continue to bear fruit in the years ahead. The successful Northern Ireland Economic Conference which took place in Washington last year is one example of the commitment and vision which he brought to the role of economic envoy. I know from my discussions with Secretary of State Clinton of her continuing high level interest in and commitment to the peace process and her ongoing support for consolidating all that has been achieved to date in transforming the situation in Northern Ireland. Indeed, following Declan Kelly's resignation in May, Secretary Clinton reaffirmed that the United States will continue to work with Northern Ireland to expand the opportunities that have been identified during his tenure as US Economic Envoy. The question of how this will be achieved is a matter for the Secretary of State. I have not discussed the appointment of a new Northern Ireland economic envoy with her.
The Government will also continue to work directly with the Northern Ireland Executive and support its efforts in any way we can, including through the North South Ministerial Council. The Government's key priorities are to strengthen the economy across the island of Ireland, as an essential component of economic recovery, to help create jobs for our people and to improve cross-Border public services such as health and education. Both jurisdictions on the island face a number of common challenges including fiscal challenges; the banking sector; NAMA and the property market; and the need to increase our competitiveness. Economic co-operation with Northern Ireland offers a significant opportunity to strengthen our competitiveness, achieve economies of scale in delivering services to communities on either side of the Border, overcome structural economic problems and tackle unemployment. I am confident that the US will continue to work with the two Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive to this end.
I thank the Tánaiste for his response. This is the third time I have raised this matter with the Tánaiste. I accept that he accepts its importance but I must express a degree of disappointment that whereas he stated correctly it is a matter for the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as to whether such an envoy is appointed he has not actively engaged with her on the issue. I would encourage the Tánaiste to open up active negotiations because we must lobby strongly for this appointment. We might look across the Border at an unemployment level of 7.3% or 7.4% and be somewhat envious of that position but nonetheless we are conscious of the fact that within certain enclaves of the Six Counties there is endemic unemployment-----
-----and that endemic unemployment has given rise to the current difficulties. Will the Tánaiste engage more vigorously with the American Secretary of State, conscious of the fact that the appointment of an envoy would be of major benefit to the Six Counties but would also have an all-island benefit accruing from it?
First, I have met with the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on a number of occasions since my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs and there is no doubt about her commitment and support for the continuing peace process in Northern Ireland and for economic development in Northern Ireland. I also conveyed to her the appreciation of the work Declan Kelly did during his term as her economic envoy to Northern Ireland. I should point out that his role was very much as an economic envoy to Northern Ireland and in the first instance it is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive as to whether it would wish to see that role continue. If it has a view on that it has not been communicated to me.
Second, it is a matter for the United States Administration as to where, when and in what capacity envoys are appointed. I have discussed with Secretary of State Clinton the necessity, for example, to continue funding through the Ireland Funds. That is hugely important and as the Deputy is aware, there have been difficulties in regard to that. The focus and the approach I am taking on this matter is to continue to encourage the United States Administration to continue its economic support but the manner in which that is done and whether it appoints envoys is a matter for its Administration.
I thank the Tánaiste for that response. Implicit in what he is saying is his sense that there is perhaps some element of reluctance on the part of the Northern Ireland Assembly in regard to this particular matter. What level of engagement has the Tánaiste had with the Assembly and with the relevant Ministers on that matter? It would be highly desirable if we could achieve a unanimous approach to persuading the American authorities to appoint an envoy with the unquestionable benefits that would accrue from such an appointment.
There are two issues of which we must be respectful. The first is to be respectful of the position of the Northern Ireland Executive because this envoy was appointed to Northern Ireland. It was not an appointment to the island as a whole and therefore we must be first respectful of that. I have had a number of discussions with both the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland and this issue was not raised by them as something that needed to be pursued.
Second, the appointment of an envoy or any diplomatic representation, whether it is in the political or economic sphere, is a matter for the Government. It is something that we must be mindful and respectful of in that this is a matter for the United States Administration. It is a matter for the Secretary of State. I have a big agenda for discussion with the Secretary of State, much of which relates to Northern Ireland and includes economic support and support for the Ireland Funds, and I am mindful of maintaining a degree of respect as to whether she wants to make a similar appointment in the future.