Friday, 23 October 2009

He came, He spoke and He failed

Many people including several hundred protestors objected to Nick Griffin and the BNP having a place on BBC Question Time last night.

There is an old saying which was proven wrong last night - no publicity is bad publicity.

Griffin couldnt even decide what his party was for, couldnt answer a straight question and if you were to give him the benefit of the doubt was a person who hadnt said anything in months. I know photoshop and editing are great but he was denying things he had said that were filmed.

I was a bit concerned about him being on Question Time but now I am glad he was.

Griffin has no knowledge of history, politics, society and how he ever got a law degree is beyond me.

It was a good night - shining a light on these people shows that they are just another bunch of ignorant thugs - but then what does that make the people who vote for them and what does it mean for other political parties when people are prepared to vote BNP. That is something worth worrying about.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Joining the Dots with our Economic Diaspora

"I believe strongly that, you know, we have an opportunity every time there is a challenge. And being smart and creative, flexible, agile, in today's economic conditions is an absolute necessity."

These were the words of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a meeting in Belfast last week with business leaders.

It has never been more important for our economy to be smart,creative, flexible and agile. We are facing an economic situation that sees 53,800 people be without jobs in Northern Ireland. Despite the great news from the New York Stock Exchange a lot more innovative paths to investment will have to be sought before we will be out of the woods.

In response to this The President's Club in Belfast, an organisation dedicated to developing and enhancing crossborder and cross Atlantic business relationships has organised an event that will start us on a path to engage with our economic diaspora.

The event which takes place tomorrow morning is part of the 'Silicon Valley comes to Ireland' Initiative organised by the Irish Technology Leadership Group. The discussions will be chaired by economist and journalist John Simpson and will be addressed by Dr. Graham Gudgin one of the authors of the Independent Review of the Economy (IREP - well as representatives from InvestNI, Enterprise Ireland and a host of business people from across the island and the USA.

I hope to twitter and at some stages blog on the event. If you have any questions please send them to me and I will do my best to raise them.

Please send your questions to
or to my facebook or this blog.

The event runs from 8am - 11.45am althought there are a range of other ITLG events happening in Belfast.

Mark Durkan on Policing - in Swansea

“We need to seal the deal on the devolution of justice now. The Assembly should be the better for having a full share of powers under the devolved brief.

“The anger of the DUP/SF gerrymandering of the justice ministry deepens, as does the need for devolution. We need the legal powers to protect the vulnerable and better laws and ways to address the youth at risk and young people involved in crime.

“North-South is going slow and staying slow and a vital democratic part of the Good Friday Agreement is punching far below its weight.

“At the time of recession when money is tight, when we share a small part of this island, North-South should be going higher, wider and deeper. This is not happening on the DUP/SF watch and it doesn’t add up on any level.

“The First Minister and Deputy First Minister should publish the budget offer from the Prime Minister for the devolution of justice, whether the figures add up or if they are cobbled together.

“Behind the Gordon Brown offer, there’s a real temptation for the DUP that it will find ways to resist. The temptation will be to move it at a higher price for the devolution of justice. This may see damage to Patten, erosion of the Parades Commission and further challenges to the values of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The British government must hold secure to any of this.”

Irish Reunification speech - Gerry Adams Swansea

October 20, 2009

Remarks by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA to the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Swansea today:

I want to begin by thanking the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly for the invitation to speak here today.

Over the years this Assembly, through its committees and plenary meetings, has created a context in which parliamentarians from Ireland and Britain are able to come together and discuss issues of mutual importance.

This Assembly especially allows TDs and MLAs, from the two elected bodies on the island of Ireland, to come together to discuss all-Ireland co-operation and related subjects.

While this institution, through the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, predates the Good Friday Agreement, there can be no doubt that the focus of much of your work is rooted in that Agreement and the political institutions that emerged from it.

This is very important.

The Good Friday Agreement is a unique document.

It was born out of centuries of British involvement in Irish affairs. This resulted in conflict, communal division and sectarianism, the partition of the island of Ireland, the partition of Ulster, and the creation of a unionist dominated state in the north eastern part of our country.

Partition was not just a line on the map; it was the construction of a system of political apartheid which relied on discrimination and denied democracy and justice.

Resolving the many complexities resulting from this was never going to be easy.

The Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement put in place mechanisms and arrangements which seek to do that.

These include political matters, institutional arrangements, human rights, equality, policing, justice, language and culture issues.

As well as the crucial issue of constitutional matters.

And it does all of this in an all-Ireland context.

These Agreements are also significant instruments of change; real change in real ways in peoples daily lives.

For this reason elements of political unionism opposed to this new dispensation seek to minimise, to dilute and to delay its potential or to oppose it entirely.

So, the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement continue to face huge challenges, not least in the failure of the British government to fulfil its obligations, for example, on Irish language rights.

But for the purpose of today’s remarks let me focus on the issue that has dominated politics from before partition – the constitutional issue! That is the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

The Good Friday Agreement clearly sets out the political realities.

It recognises that it is for the people of the island of Ireland to determine our own future – to exercise our self-determination.

In the event that a majority of people in the north prefer a sovereign United Ireland then the British government will legislate for it.

The agreement also sets out the mechanism by which this will happen – by means of a ‘border poll’.

So, there you have it.

The people living on the island of Ireland can determine our own future, and–when a majority in the north and a majority in the south opt for Irish re-unification, the constitutional process to bring that about will kick in.

The Good Friday Agreement therefore provides for a constitutional route to Irish unity.

That is a significant achievement.

Sinn Féin seeks to build on this by:

Working in partnership with others of like mind in Ireland to build political support for Irish reunification.

There is a particular responsibility for all parties in the Oireachtas and particularly for the government in Dublin to actively work for reunification.

We have to persuade unionists – or at least a section of unionism – that such a development makes political, social and economic sense – that it serves their self-interest.

There is already a growing awareness of the importance to our future prosperity and growth, of the all-Ireland economy and of all-Ireland connections in health, education, energy, the environment and much more.

These are commonsense arrangements which must be built upon.

Sinn Féin is also currently engaged with unionists and especially with disadvantaged unionist working class areas, to a greater extent than ever before.

We need to address the genuine fears and concerns of unionists in a meaningful way.

We need to look at what they mean by their sense of Britishness and be willing to explore and to be open to new concepts.

We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland.

In other words it needs to be their United Ireland.

So, there are many issues for republicans and unionists to talk about. However it is worth noting that within the current British system, unionists are fewer than 2 per cent of the population; they cannot hope to have any significant say in the direction of their own affairs.

As 20 per cent of a new Ireland, unionists will be able to assert their full rights and entitlements and exercise real political power and influence.

So, Sinn Féin’s vision of a new Ireland is of a shared Ireland, an integrated Ireland, an Ireland in which unionists have equal ownership; an Ireland in which there will be respect for cultural diversity, and a place in which there is political, social, economic and cultural equality.

There is no desire on the part of Irish republicans to conquer or humiliate unionists.

There can be no place for revenge in the thinking or vocabulary of Irish Republicanism.

Nationalists and republicans want our rights, but we do not seek to deny the rights of anybody else. The real distinction that we have always drawn is between justice and privilege. Justice for all and privilege for none.

This means, for example, that Orange marches will have their place, in a new Ireland albeit on the basis of respect and cooperation.

But the Irish question, as it has been described over the years by some, is not simply one for the Irish.

There is not only a democratic requirement on the part of the peoples of Britain to adopt a positive stance on how the Irish question should be finally settled, there is a moral imperative.

It is one thing saying that unionists should not be frogmarched into a united Ireland; it is another to adopt the position of silence in the face of whether or not a united Ireland should come into being, in whatever negotiated form that will entail.

The peoples of Britain have a duty to themselves, to unionists in particular, to the Irish in general, and even to the world, to stand up and speak their opinion on the issue of the reunification of Ireland.

I believe that the economic and political dynamics in Ireland today make Irish reunification a realistic and realisable goal in a reasonable period of time.

I invite the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly to join in this historic endeavour.

We have to persuade the British government to change its policy from one of upholding the union to one of becoming a persuader for Irish unity.

This also involves persuading the other political representatives of the peoples of these islands – whether in Scotland or Wales or the North of England or London or the Isle of Man or Guernsey, that their interests are also served by helping the people of Ireland achieve reunification.

There are also common sense economic and social and environmental and health and many other reasons why Irish reunification makes sense over partition.

In reality the border is more than just an inconvenience.

It is an obstacle to progress and while its adverse affects are most clearly felt in the communities that straddle the border, it also impacts negatively throughout the island.

The reality is that the economy of the North is too small to exist in isolation.

The economies of both parts of the island are interlinked and interdependent.

The delivery of public services is restricted and inefficient.

There are two competing industrial development bodies seeking inward investment, with no coordination in supporting local industries.

We have two arts councils and two sports councils and three tourists’ bodies.

This is not efficient.

There are some who suggest that because we live in a period of severe economic difficulty that Irish reunification should be put off for the foreseeable future.

In fact the opposite is the case.

There is now a need, more than ever, for the island economy to be brought into being in the fullest sense, and for the political and administrative structures to be instituted with that in mind.

Many in the business community, north and south, already recognise this fact.

And all the indications are that the European Union also understands how the needs of Ireland can best be met by treating it as an island rather than as two entities on an island.

Geography does not necessarily determine politics, but neither can it be ignored in assessing what is the most effective approach to meeting the challenges of economic development and satisfying the needs of communities.

The Good Friday agreement is an opportunity to develop understanding and to advocate rationally, the benefits of Irish reunification.

The institutional elements of the Good Friday Agreement and of St. Andrews are therefore important mechanisms to be built upon.

The Good Friday Agreement also proposed the establishment of an All-Ireland Civic Forum and an All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum.

An All-Ireland Civic Forum could offer a very important input for citizens throughout the island to discuss problems of a common nature.

It could also enable a greater level of mutual understanding to develop.

As for an All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum, the important work of this body provides ample evidence of the benefits that would derive from the establishment of such a body.

So, my friends if I was to reduce all of these remarks to one sentence it would be to repeat what I have said earlier; there is a democratic requirement and moral imperative on the part of the peoples of Britain to adopt a positive stance on how the Irish question should be finally settled.

This means initiating and supporting measures to bring about the reunification of the people of Ireland." ENDS

Monday, 19 October 2009

Good News for Economy at Last

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her various visits around Belfast. Some members of the media whilst loving the photos viewed the visit as a pat on the back or even an ego trip for the Secretary.

These people need to wake up and realise that someone in her position does not have time for such idle ego triping. And quite frankly who cares if there were boards on the Europa Hotel or not.

Today shows the real tangible benefits of having the attention of a US Secretary of State. The New York Stock Exchange is creating 400 jobs here in the coming years. Below is the welcome from our First and Deputy First Minister. Congratulations as well to Invest NI. This is the priority not these other irrelevancies.

"First Minister Peter Robinson, MP MLA, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MP MLA, today formally welcomed plans by NYSE Euronext (NYX) to expand the business operations of its NYSE Technologies division in Belfast.

Invest Northern Ireland will provide up to £9.6million to support the move of NYSE Technologies business operations into a new state-of-the-art development facility in 2010 and the creation of up to 400 new technology, operational and corporate jobs, which include 75 positions from a prior agreement, in the coming years.

NYSE Euronext recognises its operations in Belfast as a centre of excellence for the delivery of innovative technology solutions, specifically low latency messaging capabilities, data distribution and securities operations to serve its expanding global client base.

First Minister Rt. Hon Peter Robinson, MP MLA, said: “Today’s announcement that NYSE Euronext intends to expand its operations and staff in Belfast is yet another positive step forward by Invest NI in the growth of our local financial services sector, particularly at a time when global competition for such investment has never been higher. NYSE Technologies is an enterprise which works at the very core of the trading world, developing advanced software solutions for global trading markets.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MP MLA, said: “No one should doubt the scale and significance of this expansion which is a major endorsement of our local talent, knowledge and infrastructure. It will also send a clear message to other potential investors when such a high profile institution decides to invest here. Over the past two years I, along with the First Minister and his predecessor have had an ongoing engagement with Duncan and his colleagues which we are delighted has led to this announcement.”

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “Having met with the company in New York in December, and more recently in Belfast, I am delighted to see this latest project come to fruition today. Following on from last year’s announcement at the US Investment Conference, through this latest expansion, NYSE Euronext’s commitment to Northern Ireland sends a strong message to other potential investors that this is an exceptional place to locate and grow a business.”

Duncan Niederauer, Chief Executive Officer, NYSE Euronext, said: "We welcome the opportunity to partner with Invest NI and to expand our presence in Belfast. Northern Ireland will become increasingly important to our global growth strategy and complement our technology centres in Paris and London. Together, these centres of excellence will enable us to effectively address the growing technology and trading needs of our customers and our company."

Stanley Young, Chief Executive Officer, NYSE Technologies and Co-Global Chief Information Officer, NYSE Euronext, added: "Our operation in Belfast has exceeded expectations for the delivery of advanced software solutions for our global clients. The calibre of people, combined with Invest NI’s support and the growing financial services and ICT sectors, fits extremely well with our business objectives."

Friday, 16 October 2009

Bomb attack in East Belfast

This morning a car bomb exploded close to where I live in Belfast slightly injuring a relative of a police officer.

Thankfully the injuries were not more serious. It is likely that this attack was carried out by dissident republicans. It is anticipated that there will be more attacks like this one.

Our politicians have rightly condemned this crazy act and have said that it will not be tolerated. So what can they do?

1. Agree the budget for policing and justice and get it devolved as quickly as possible

2. End the bickering in public and argue the rights and wrongs inside Parliament Buildings and not in the media

3. Show the dissidents that the Assembly has the support of people from all sides of the community including Republicans

4. Challenge the dissidents to show their plan for a United Ireland or whatever it is they claim to want.

Following the very encouraging visit this week by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton let us show that this island will not accept a few lunatics dragging us back to the past. These groups had nothing but death and destruction to offer then and they have certainly nothing to offer now.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Farmleigh II

The second session of the North South Consultative Forum lost the run of itself a little bit. It was an open session for any organisation to suggest agendas and talk about their experiences of North South activity. There was nothing new in this!

There were several complaints that there were no representatives from OFMDFM at the Forum. According to the Dept. of the Taoiseach they were invited. I have my doubts about how much pushing there was to get some representative down.

A North South Consultative Forum must have buy in from both administrations North and South if it is to be relevant. Extra buy in from the EU and a reluctant British government would also be welcome.

It is very hard to decide what the purpose of this meeting was. Was it to gauge support for such a forum? If so it was a waste of time as it is in the St Andrews Agreement therefore there has to be one. I would like to know what the goals of the Taoiseach were for this meeting.

For me the meeting was great - i networked with over 200 organisations and made some good contacts. It would have been good to meet organisations from the South but there were very few there.

At the end of the meeting (which was recorded) there was no suggestion of a next meeting or what the next steps were - steering group, agenda setting, resource identification...

It will be interesting to see if this will be carried forward. If so, one question - what does it add to what already exists. More on the twitter


It was an early start to be here for 9am! so forgive spelling grammar etc.

Farmleigh is a magnificent building set in the midst of Phoenix Park. To get here this morning we did have to go down a road that had a works sign stating Road Closed. I hope that this is not a sign for the rest of the day!

Anyway, the speech from the Taoiseach was relatively predictable. The host of civil society and economic organisations were complimented on their work. Taoiseach then stated the importance of continuing the peace process.

He did state that he had directed his officials and Ministers to be open to engaging with civil society and also said to me in a brief discussion afterwards that The Innovation Taskforce recently set up to develop a smart economy will be open to looking at and having discussion on how it can proceed on an all-island basis. This might in time make up for NI being sidelined at the huge economic conference here in September.

The audience who are largely from organisations in NI do seem to have a few issues surrounding the event. Questions such as why are we here? Havent we done all this before? What happens next? are all being asked.

I think the purpose so far is to see should we still have a North South Consultative Forum and what should it do.

I am a bit concerned that the majority of organisations represented are from NI. How and can we make this initiative relevant to people on the island as a whole?

One more thing - dont forget organisations have been at this for 20 or more years - lets bring something new and lets not reinvent or duplicate the wheel.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

North South Consultative Forum

Will be blogging and twittering from the first North South Consultative Forum that will be held in Dublin tomorrow at Farmleigh.

It is an initiative from Taoiseach Brian Cowen to look at the future of North South relations in terms of social, civil and economic relations.

I hope it is not just an effort to make up for not including Northern Ireland in the huge economic diaspora event held in Farmleigh in September.There was only one Northern Ireland representative at the event and despite often referring to the Northern Ireland peace process and tackling challenges on an all-island basis there wasnt even a session on crossborder trade.

Hopefully this will be a new commitment from an Irish government fresh from the victory over the Lisbon Treaty.

So lets see what happens tomorrow.

Monday, 12 October 2009


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has left Northern Ireland. Happy travels.

City Hall to Airport

Right its time to go - this time to the airport although I get the feeling the plane might wait.

I know I have been lighthearted about the motorcade and the plane and other trappings of power. Yes it is a statement of power but it is also a statement that says we need to be at a location at a certain time and in safety. The people that I have met and dealt with in the last 24 hours are friendly and helpful but also they have a very srious job to do.

As i sit in the van at the back of the motorcade with traffic being stopped all over the place I watch the press corps who are trying to file stories on Northern Ireland and North Korea and are speaking in various languages on other stories that they may be working on. They really are an inquisitive bunch with questions on politics, economics or religion. Also now that they have to travel with the Secretary to Russia it does make me realise the sacrifice that these people must make with being away from home, family and friends. If you are reading this thank you for the fun, challenging questions and by the way George Best is a major football hero here1

Without wishing to over do the theme - the embassy and consulate support staff, security and State Department staff make a similar sacrifice with long hours probably normally being very far from home and important events such as the birth of a child and I send best wishes to the security agent who is awaiting some good news -hope you make it home on time.

Of course all of the above applies to our special guest. The Secretary of State has had a smile and encouragement for everyone she has met. (I am convinced I got a personal wave and smile after what must have been a long week and wasnt over yet). We make many complaints about politicians and often rightly so but lets remember the sacrifices and service they offer.

Right on the tarmac again and time to wave goodbye.To the Secretary of State I hope we see you again and take advantage of the attention, encouragement and commitment that you have shown to Northern Ireland.

Time to open City Hall

Leaving Queen's University and off to our final stop of the day - the official opening of City Hall in Belfast.

Traffic has been of a nightmare and we have got slightly separated from the motorcade. Never fear the press will make it through once some motorbikes are moved. Then its a quick run up the stairs and poor ABC are carrying around a lot of heavy equipment.

First thing to say is our City Hall looks amazing and am very proud that it shows off our city in a very positive light to our very special guest and the international media. Well done everyone at City Hall and thank you.

An unfortunate accident befell former Speaker Eileen Bell prior to our arrival. We all wish her a speedy recovery.

Perhaps realising that this was the last event (at least for a few hours) the Secretary appeared very relaxed and was amongst friends including a delegation of prominent women leaders from 'Vital Voices'. There was even time for a bit of humour when she refered to the Titanic Signature Project as a brave move to name something after the Titanic. I am reasonably sure a member of the audience said 'It was fine when it left Belfast...'

The Secretary praised the role that women have played and continue to play in the peace process. One or two men were praised the first was Michael Long the husband of our Lord Mayor who has a lot of late nights at work and of course the work of John Hume to bring peace to NI.

Clinton at Queens University Belfast

The show now moves from Stormont to Queen's University at quite a pace thanks to the job done by Close Protection Unit and motorcycle outriders who kindly stop all traffic (guys any chance I could borrow you for rush hour at home time???)

Queens is a business focused event. Unfortunately it is a closed event so am not allowed to hear all that is said. As it turns out the event despite the best intentions of embassy, consulate and other staff overran a bit so I hope this was a good sign. This I believe shows the Clinton focus on the issue of Northern Ireland and its prosperity its hard to imagine another world leader giving so much time to 'our wee country'.

The Secretary was joined by Economic Envoy Declan Kelly who is always exceptionally polite and is a man with a mission to deliver results. His total focus is productivity and refreshingly whilst he recognises the need for politicians will not be distracted by them.

Queen's University won the admiration of the press corps by laying on very welcome refreshments. Brownie point successfully attained so say Washington Post and ABC.

After a long wait (apologies to all those people waiting at City Hall)the Secretary accompanied by a range of business leaders as well as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment Arlene Foster and Minister of Employment and Learning Sir Reg Empey.

The remarks by the Secretary were again a call for political stability so that focus can be placed on the economy. She celebrated not only the traditional and personal ties to Northern Ireland but also a hope that we can develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

Controversial time...Perhaps we in Northern Ireland could at least start to look at ways that we can return the massive political and economic favour that has been shown to us?

A few questions by Mark Devenport and Ken Reid and then the New York Times who gave us a reminder that Northern Ireland is not the only focus for the Secretary of State when he asked about missile tests in North Korea.

Set against this and other international backdrops (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Israel/Gaza...) Northern Ireland is truly lucky that a place of 1.7million people engenders such good will from. the most powerful country in the world.

Right...the blogger has been shouted for and I have my escort of secret service and US Airforce officers ...or was I hanging on at the end? Delusions of grandeur are soon erased when the charming head of motorcade Scott in his own lovely way says GET ON THE BUS!

Assembly Speech

After a super running effort on my part from press to the back of motorcade, I have eventually made it to the Assembly. I didn't have to sign in and no need for a pass. Yeah! I could get used to this.

First time in the Press Gallery and for the 10th time have been told to switch off my mobile phone. Yes, I have been in the building once or twice.

The public gallery was packed with former politicians, like John Hume, and dignitaries such as Matt Baggott, the new Chief Constable of the PSNI. Oh and Stephen Warke everybody!!!

The speech was reasonably predictable - congratulating the parties on how far they have come, and the important leadership they can provide to the people of Northern Ireland. It was speculated in some circles that the Secretary of State would try and push our First and Deputy First Ministers to do the deal on policing and justice.

The Secretary looked in the general direction of the DUP benches and stated that the USA was not here to 'meddle' on this issue. Then looking towards the Sinn Fein benches she stated that the US would encourage all political parties to do the deal on policing and justice and to complete the devolution process.

Then the Secretary encouraged the politicians to work together to solve the economic challenges facing Northern Ireland. This would be supported by the new Special Economic Envoy, Declan Kelly.

Now we are being whisked off to Queens for a business session which is going to be closed...boooo! Eye Spy will try and find out more!

Stormont Castle

It is a beautiful October morning in Belfast. The normal hussle and bustle of rush hour traffic has been held up by the motorcade of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We are off to Stormont Castle for the first meetings of the day.

At the Castle the Secretary will be having private meetings with the First and Deputy First Minsters. High on the agenda will be political issues (despite efforts to make this day about the economy)with policing and justice being top of the agenda. A letter is expected to be sent from 10 Downing Street to OFMDFM to confirm the budget for policing and justice.

Then it is off next door to Parliament Buildings to give an historic speech before a full Assembly.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Day 2 Clinton

Early start this morning after the excitement of yesterday. It was very cool waiting on the tarmac as the Secretary of State came down the steps. Then it was a fast run to the hotel and help settle press corps in. Ended up having a long chat with State Department officials on Northern Ireland issues.

Today will be a lot busier and very fast moving.

Looking forward to hearing remarks at the NI Assembly later.

Should be on Good Morning Ulster at around 7.50am

Purpose of the Clinton Visit

Now that we have a few minutes where nothing is happening (and the Close Protection Unit have supplied coffee!) I can get a chance to have a think about why this is all happening. Why is the second most powerful politician in the world coming to 'our wee country'?

It is a case that the Clinton's have developed over the years a very close affinity with the people of this island and a genuine concern for its future. The focus of the future is principally economic as opposed to purely political.

Northern Ireland is also seen as a success story in terms of peace processes. (Today the INLA said that it would decommission weapons) Wouldn't it be a great legacy to Northern Ireland and a big thank you to those countries like the United States, who have helped us, if one of our major exports was a guide to resolving conflict?

The US Secretary of State recently appointed Declan Kelly as the new Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland. His aim is to quickly get positive economic results for both NI and the USA. We need to take full advantage of this great, and possibly temporary, opportunity to be a centrepiece of foreign policy for the USA.

This important visit will naturally act as a stimulus for our politicians to see the bigger picture and focus on issues that genuinely matter to people.

I do get a sense that our luck will eventually run out and that other areas from around the world will become the focus of attention.

Policing and Justice has been the major distraction here for weeks, months or even years and it now needs to be sorted so that the economy can have the full and undivided attention of our politicians.

This visit is our opportunity to shine on the world stage, so let us show the world that Northern Ireland is open for business.


We have finally started moving again. This time we are at the back of a ten vehicle motorcade with various police cars and about 10 outriders who are going ahead to stop traffic and push us through redlights.

Bit of a surreal experience with the public looking in trying to figure out who is in the cars - no one at this stage. Big temptation to wave and pretend to be someone famous. So did anyone give in to this temptation? As the saying goes "What happens on the motorcade stays on the motorcade!"

Another security check with dogs...nothing found so we are now, yes you guessed it, waiting again and swapping stories of other visits that people have been involved in.

As you might expect it is a very well organised and detailed visit, but the number and types of people involved is staggering. It makes me wonder what previous Presidential visits were like or what an Obama visit might be like.

First Impressions

First impressions might be a little surprising for those of us who do not normally join motorcades for senior world leaders.

There is an awful lot of waiting around, looking at watches and in this case looking at US Secret Service officers checking, checking and checking. So for a while I am a political tourist watching others do their work.

Watching some people working to try and satisfy the media demands from local, national and international press.

There are moments of excitement when the motorcade starts coming together, specific jobs are handed out and things start moving.

Recommendations so far are- get sleep before the big day, wear comfortable shoes, bring some sweets and a flask of coffee (just in case our friends at the PSNI forgets the coffee!!! which is fine, no absolutely fine.)

Anyway hope to have some more things to say in a while.

Day 1 Clinton Visit

Well it is the start of a very exciting and interesting 24 hours accompanying Secretary of State Clinton on her visit to NI.

So, suited and booted, I received my first crucial mission - to get drinkies for the press corps. Mission is accomplished with the aid of my beautiful assistant(wife) Ursula. So I hope they like the black stuff!!

Wheels up so the Secretary is on her way to a sunny NI. Off to get security checked and then picked up.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Clinton visit to Northern Ireland

I have been lucky enough to be chosen as the local blogger attached to the State Department for the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Northern Ireland.

Received the briefing today and I will be travelling in the motorcade and accompanying the team to most of the meetings.

I will try to give an impression of what it is to be an observer of this kind of visit. There are many better people to give impressions of policy implications, but I will have a go at that as well.

It is quite humbling to not only be considered but accepted to do this kind of thing. The West Wing fan inside of me has been going mad for a while until final confirmation yesterday!

I will be joining officials from the State Department and journalists from AP; Reuters; AFP; New York Times; Washington Post; Bloomberg; BBC; Wall Street Journal; CNN and ABC. So really looking forward to meeting them and learning from their experiences.

Anyway, I will be doing a mixture of live and after blogging and will try and post on twitter - as much as I am allowed.

Thank you to all who arranged this and I hope you enjoy the results!!!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

What has the Assembly ever done for us?

Internal tensions in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister have recently been in the media. Publicly this is between Peter Robionson and Martin McGuinness who cannot agree on how to convince Downing Street to give an adequate budget for policing and justice.

First thing to say is the budget for policing and justice will be found. But at what cost?

Every few days we hear about financial pressures on education and health with reductions in services and bed closures likely to be only the start.

Policing and justice are not the only issues being held up. There are a substantial number of issues - over 35 - that are being delayed at Executive level.

With all of this background I started a conversation on Facebook (which is still ongoing) to ask people what successes the Asswembly has had. The aim of this is to keep a balance with the gloom and doom. The following list has been cobbled together from submissions to date and are not all mine:

Free perscriptions
Reduced hospital waiting lists
Development of the Cathedral Quarter
Funding to make school buses safer
Air Route Development Fund - developing direct flights to US and elsewhere
Ability to independently protect NI beef exports during various BSE crises
Fuel Poverty Strategy - Winter Fuel Payment
Free Travel for the elderly
Small Business Rates Relief
New Bus and Train fleet
Public Accounts Committee - holding public agencies to account
Protection of HomeStart Services
Promotion of Renewable Energy

Please feel free to add to list on facebook or here. But just remember when the media and politicians are full of gloom and doom some real successes have been delivered for the people on the ground.

To our politicians - as you can see above you can do good! Do not get side tracked on silly arguments. Delivering for the people who put you there is what is important now more than ever. In this election year please remember what the people giveth the people can take away.