True, a friend in need is supposed to be a friend indeed, but with the Storm of the Century bearing down on New York, I admit it: I skedaddled back to Belfast.
But not before our many friends in the Big Apple had gathered to launch the Belfast International Homecoming Business and Investment Conference in the Consulate of Ireland on Park Avenue. (You can download the brochure for the 12-14 October conference here.)
Guest speaker at the launch, New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, sole trusteee of the State’s $180bn-plus pension fund, brought good news with him despite troubled markets: he remains committed to placing another $15m into equity funds in the North of Ireland. Indeed, he revealed that over recent weeks, his team has been mulling over opportunities which could bring a significant boost to early-stage companies in Belfast. This St Patrick’s Day marks two years since the Comptroller made the biggest-ever single investment in an equity fund in the North and with New York about to celebrate a truly inclusive parade this 17 March, more good news from the Comptroller’s headquarters in Albany would be the icing on the cake of this year’s celebrations.
Also speaking at the launch was Steve Lenox, President Irish Network USA and founder of Lenox Consulting, who has helped build the Network into a coast-to-coast powerhouse for young Irish American professionals. There was also a warm welcome for Christine Quinn — who was among the first New York political leaders to visit Belfast to bolster the peace process.
Now CEO of Win, an organisation which works for homeless families in New York, she spoke of witnessing in Belfast the importance of economic empowerment as a path to equality. She also bounced me into committing to run the New York marathon for Win this November — a pledge I’m happy to make but I expect her to come to Belfast to collect the sponsorship cheque!
With homelessness now a national issue in Ireland, her plan to ‘rethink’ the entire issue in New York has much to offer those battling homelessness in both Dublin and Belfast.
Also present at the launch was Shaun Kelly of audit, tax and advisory firm KMPG, sponsors of the New York-New Belfast conference. Shaun was recently promoted to the role of Global Chief Operating Officer in KPMG, not bad for an Andytown boy! Representing the legislators of New York who brought a 40-strong delegation to the 2015 Homecoming were Reps Mike Fitzpatrick and Mike Cusick (who took the 5am train from Albany to be with us), Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo, strategist Glenn Riddell and Lisa Hofflich from the office of Rep Amy Paulin.
The host for our breakfast launch, Consul General of Ireland in New York Barbara Jones, is, of course, no stranger to Belfast either. Her last posting was with the British-Irish Secretariat in the city. An exemplary ambassador for Ireland and for the peace process, she has made the Consulate a hub of peacemaking — the evening before our event, she hosted a reception for the Corrymeela community where I learnt that hotelier John Fitzpatrick, Chair of the American Ireland Fund and long-time patron of the Co Antrim peacebuilding center travels there frequently — in his self-piloted helicopter!
I suspect that he may have found it easier then me to flit New York ahead of Storm Jonas.