Adjournment Debate. - Washington Conference on Trade and Investment in Ireland.

Thursday, 11 May 1995

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 452 No. 7

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Dr. O'Hanlon: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I thank the Chair for giving me permission to raise this topic on the Adjournment. I express my appreciation of the efforts of President Clinton, not only in supporting the peace process but in organising the Washington Conference to ensure [1668] inward investment from the United States in the Border counties which have been placed at a disadvantage because of the violence of the past 25 years. I have already made the case in this House that the moneys targeted at the Border areas from other European countries should be regarded as additional. I do not intend to cover that ground again except to say it is important during the next three years that the Border areas are given some competitive advantages to allow them to compete on a level playing pitch.

I appreciate the efforts of President Clinton and the US Department of Commerce in organising the conference to which a number of people from this country have been invited to attend. In this regard I am primarily concerned with the industrialists and business people who have received invitations. As some of them are very busy they will have to decide if they will be in a position to attend.

I am concerned at the lack of preparation for the conference on this side of the Atlantic. I call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Enterprise and Employment to meet as a matter of urgency, within the next 24 hours given that most of the people invited to attend the conference do not know what will be discussed or how it will be of assistance to them.

I understand there will be a major discussion on the question of partnership on 25 May. I discovered this today and the people to whom I have been speaking do not know it yet. I call on the three Ministers concerned as a matter of urgency to meet IDA-Ireland, Forbairt and CTT and organise a briefing session for all the industrialists and business people in the Border areas who will attend the conference following which they should have an opportunity to discuss their needs and requirements, such as who they would like to meet while in Washington, with officials of relevant Departments.

In turn, it should be indicated how more jobs can be created in the Border [1669] areas as a result of this conference, in the area of new technology, for example, by creating a link with an American company, based either in the United States or Europe. Alternatively, an American company may wish to locate here to supplement or complement an existing industry. I would ask the Minister of State and her two colleagues who are in the House to use their influence with the three Departments I mentioned to ensure, as a matter of urgency, a briefing is held on this matter — it will have to be next week because they will go to Washington the following week — with a view to facilitating these people. It will be a serious indictment of the Government if we do not maximise the benefits that can accrue from this conference.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Ms Burton): Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I am grateful for the opportunity to provide clarification of the Irish preparations for the White House Conference for Trade and Investment in Ireland, which will be held in Washington at the end of this month.

Economic progress can make an enormous contribution to the goal of achieving a lasting peaceful and political accommodation in Northern Ireland. While there are deep divisions on political matters in Northern Ireland, there are few who will contest the view that economic co-operation between the two parts of Ireland makes sound common sense.

There is a very important US dimension to the economic aspect of the peace process. President Clinton announced in November 1994 a package of economic measures to assist in the consolidation of the peace process. The President, noting how the present opportunity for lasting peace in Ireland was the chance of a generation, urged that it is be seized upon and supported.

A major element in the President's strategy was the proposal for a White House Conference for Trade and Investment in Ireland. The conference [1670] offers a valuable opportunity to promote inward investment in Northern Ireland and the six Border counties and for the economic regeneration of an area which has suffered severely from the consequences of 25 years of violence in Northern Ireland. The Government is determined for its part to do everything possible to ensure that full use be made of this major opportunity to highlight for potential US investors the merits of investment in the new context created by peace.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has chaired a co-ordinating group of other Government Departments over several months in order to ensure the best possible Irish input to the conference. The State agencies have been closely involved with the likely Irish business invitees. Once the Irish companies who have received invitations are known, I am confident that any assistance which those companies require will be extended by the State agencies and Government Departments to enable contacts to be made with US companies.

The expectation of the US Department of Commerce, who along with Senator Mitchell's office is responsible for the conference arrangements is for an attendance of some 1,000 invited guests, of whom roughly 700 would be from the US and roughly 300 from Ireland, North and South.

The primary focus of the conference is to ensure that business representatives from the US, Northern Ireland and the Border counties are facilitated in every way possible in making contact with each other so that trade and investment prospects can be identified and pursued. An important element in this regard is the “Match-Maker” programme being promoted by the Department of Commerce. This will enable Irish companies attending the conference to have contact with relevant US companies with a view to the development of co-operation in areas of mutual business interest. One hundred Irish companies, 50 each from North and South, have been invited to participate in the “Match-Maker” programme. [1671] This is an exciting development and one which I hope will bring positive benefits.

The main work at the conference will be conducted at the eight different workshops or break-out sessions. The topics planned cover business partnerships, information technologies, food industries, tourism, manufacturing, tradeable services, employment and community development. The organisers have lined up a distinguished list of moderators and panellists from US business people currently involved in investment in both parts of Ireland to chair the breakout sessions. Irish Ministers will also participate at these sessions.

We must be cautious, however, against expecting instant results. The White House conference is the beginning of a longer term process aimed at converting the potential of the peace process into lasting economic and social progress in Northern Ireland and the Border counties. I hope the conference will help to generate in the first instance an increased awareness among American companies of the potential benefits for investment and joint venture activity in the areas concerned.

The Department of Foreign Affairs together with the other Departments involved have been working intensively on this process for a number of months and we are prepared to offer whatever assistance we can to participants in the conference.

Dr. O'Hanlon: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Minister should tell the participants that; they do not know it.

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