A Fresh Start with Irish America
The Fresh Start at Stormont has the potential to usher in a new era of positive politics in the north of Ireland with the bulk of the community united behind a genuine effort, in the words of First Minister Arlene Foster, to place a greater premium on consensus than on conflict.
And, having just returned from a hectic 48 hours in New York, I can attest that our “exiled children in America” are fully behind any attempt to elevate the building of bridges above the building of walls.
For having played a pivotal role in securing the peace, Irish America wants to see us push forward into a prosperity process.
And with just 6.8 million people on the island of Ireland but 40 million in the Irish and Scots-Irish diaspora in the US, the power of our global family remains our ace card.
That’s why I took the opportunity while in New York to meet as Finance Minister with some of our strongest supporters in Irish America.
My message was simple: Irish America has been a sanctuary for our artists and musicians, a rich source of investment and jobs, and an unwavering ally of the peacemakers.
But, proud and all as we are of that productive partnership, I envisage a Fresh Start with Irish America which will raise the bar even further. A Fresh Start which will see even more tourists coming north, a Fresh Start which will see even more companies setting up shop in the north, a Fresh Start which see even more cultural and sporting initiatives on the lines of the Friendship Four ice hockey festival, a Fresh Start which will see even more of our small businesses access the lucrative US market, a Fresh Start which will see educational partnerships blossom between our colleges and their counterparts in the States.
I pitched the opportunity of a Fresh Start to leaders who represent every shade of Irish America: New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (who has just invested $7m in Northern start-ups), New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer who overses $154bn in pension funds, former American Ireland Fund Chair Loretta Brennan Glucksman (who drove the fundraising campaign for the Lewis Glucksman Gallery in University College Cork), veteran Republican Congressman Pete King, the leader of 500,000-member-strong trade union LIUNA Terry O’Sullivan and New York City Council members Danny Dromm and Elizabeth Crowley as well as Empire State legislators Mike Cusick and Mike Fitzpatrick (one Democrat, the other Republican).
Their response was typical of can-do Irish Americans: let’s do it.
Trust an Ulsterman, however, to go a step further. Jim Clerkin, CEO of Möet Hennessy USA, who has made bolstering the peace back home a priority, summed up the next steps in two words which should inspire us all to make sure this Fresh Start at home and across the Atlantic works: “Drive hard!”
That was an exhortation not just to me but but to all sides in the North, regardless of their political allegiance.
But it’s also a message which will resonate with Irish Americans across 50 states who, like me, are determined to realise the dream of a reconciled people in a peacefully reunited Ireland.
Handing over reins
It was a thrill for me to attend the New York-New Belfast conference in the Big Apple, the seventh year in a row that we have showcased the brilliance of Belfast to our American cousins. I have passed on the baton of leadership at Aisling Events, Irish Echo and the Belfast Media Group to an exceptional new generation of directors and managers as I transition into my new role as Finance Minister and it was a pleasure to see them step up to the plate. The unprecedented attendance at New York-New Belfast Connect shows that they are already reacher higher. These are community-based businesses making a difference and boasting staffs of unsurpassed talent and commitment. I have no doubt that they and the communities they serve will, with your support, continue to prosper in the time ahead. Drive hard!