Clinton says US investment in NIreland can help secure peace

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday promoted US investment in Northern Ireland, saying jobs and economic opportunity will secure a lasting peace in the self-ruled British province.

Opening the US-Northern Ireland Economic Conference in Washington, Clinton said jobs are especially needed in the most deprived Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in order to deny dissidents a chance to disrupt peace gains.

"A stronger economy in Northern Ireland will help secure a lasting peace and peace in Northern Ireland is a bedrock foreign policy priority for the United States," she told business and political leaders.

The conference follows up on efforts Clinton made when she visited Belfast in October last year to meet political leaders there and chair a meeting with Northern Irish and US executives of financial and high-technology firms.

Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, also visited Northern Ireland last month to help prepare for the conference.

The chief US diplomat said American companies are looking to invest in Northern Ireland now that violence there is largely a problem of the past.

"US companies have recently created more than 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland, including 100 jobs crated by GE Energy, and more than 300 in the Belfast office of New York Stock Exchange," she said.

In announcing new developments, Clinton said "Dow Chemical will open a supply chain consulting service in Belfast and the Terex Corporation will open a European business services center as well."

She said Northern Ireland was a natural draw for investment because it has a well-educated English speaking workforce, with a prime location and a first-class telecommunications infrastructure.

She urged Northern Ireland not to be discouraged amid looming budget cuts from London.

Northern Ireland is expected to be hard hit by planned cuts in public spending by the government in London, with one in three workers employed by the state -- a higher proportion than any other British region.

Clinton expressed hope for a "renewal of commitment (to the peace process) because in the long-run it's these kinds of jobs and these kinds of opportunities that are more lasting and more predictable."

Jobs were key as "dissidents continue to exploit every chance they get to influence in those hard-to-reach communities where peace is most fragile," Clinton said.

"And we need to prove in Republican (Catholic) and Loyalist (Protestant) communities alike that peace pays off, that means working to bring opportunity to all of Northern Ireland," she said.

© 2010 AFP

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