US investment in N.Ireland can help secure peace: Clinton

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

Opening the US-Northern Ireland Economic Conference in Washington, Clinton said jobs were 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 Northern Irish political leaders and US industrialists.

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 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 Tuesday that American companies were looking to invest in Northern Ireland now that violence there was 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."

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

Jobs in the private sector 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.

"We have to increase the credibility of power-sharing government and maintain momentum behind the peace process."

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson, of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, and his deputy Martin McGuinness of republicans Sinn Fein, who want a united Ireland, made their investment pitches.

Robinson cited as a successful example the US hardware firm Seagate, which has been in Northern Ireland for 16 years and employs more than 1,400 people in Londonderry, according to a transcript of their remarks.

"It recently announced a 90-million-dollar investment to create 85 research and development jobs," he said, adding it is the first time the company will have a research and development facility outside the United States.

McGuinness said Northern Ireland offers opportunities ranging from wind turbine construction to software, from pharmaceuticals to mobile telecoms.

"We are concentrating on building a knowledge-based economy," McGuinness said. "And we're encouraging businesses to invest more in R and D."

Bill and Hillary Clinton have been long-time supporters of the peace process in Northern Ireland, where a historic agreement in 1998 largely brought an end to three decades of unrest, although sporadic attacks still occur.

© 2010 AFP

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