At every turn, a ready ear
After three hectic days of engagements on the west coast, during which I am astonished all over again at the power and reach of Irish America, I arrive today in New York to showcase the progress made by the Northern Executive since the Fresh Start Agreement ushered in a new era of cross-party co-operation.
In meetings in San Francisco and Sacramento over the past few days, I have urged our allies to initiate their own Fresh Start in transatlantic relations in order to cement the peace with jobs and investment.
And our friends in that task don’t just come from traditional Irish American quarters: State of California Controller Betty Yee, who met me in the San Francisco Zen Center where Belfast native Ryushin Paul Haller is a revered figure, comes to the Irish question via her late friend Tom Hayden who pioneered Californian adoption of the MacBride Principles.
In the State capital, Robbie Hunter, President of the State Construction Trades Council, discussed ways in which support for organised labour can spur additional investment and economic growth in California and Ireland. Robbie, who hails from Sailortown in Belfast, is teaming up with Governor Jerry Brown this election season to fight for the type of reforms his great-grandfather John Quinn, who led the Belfast Dockers Strike of 1907, could only dream of. And if you think San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros can’t possibly have a connection to Ireland, then you haven’t met his Irish citizen husband Mark Kelleher.
In Berkeley, birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, I met Mayor Tom Bates and Senator Loni Hancock, progressive politicians with an instinctive grá for the cause of Ireland. Berkeley, of course, takes its name from an Irish bishop George Berkeley, but the city’s links with Ireland were deepened even further following last year’s tragic death of five Irish students and an Irish American friend.
I was also excited at the chance to address a high-powered audience of tech entrepreneurs and investors in the surreal Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco on Tuesday who were brought together by serial entrepreneur and Dubliner Seamus McAteer.
At every turn, when I made the case for ramped up engagement between the North of Ireland and the US, I found a ready ear. For potential investors, the island of Ireland, with its astonishing reputation as a base for US companies is an easy sell. The trick now is to convince US businesses that they can enjoy equal success north off the border.
The threat of a Brexit, with its inevitable economic downside, does, of course, give wannabe investors cause for pause. However, I also found a strong determination among Irish Americans to defend the mandate of the people of the North who voted to remain at the heart of Europe — a resolve reciprocated by this Finance Minister.
Today’s verdict in the High Court in London will be, I believe, only the first of a series of setbacks to those who would inflict the calamity of Brexit on the Irish people.
Here in New York, I look forward to welcoming a delegation of venture capital firms from Belfast who are keen to leverage the great goodwill in the Big Apple towards the burgeoning peace process. Over the next few days, I will be meeting with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and representatives of City Comptroller Scott Stringer. My message for them is one of partnership and opportunity as we peace process morphs into a new era of shared prosperity.