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Northern Ireland’s leaders head stateside for first international visit

Northern Ireland’s leaders are heading stateside for their first international trip since taking up the posts earlier this year.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly will travel to Washington DC where they will meet US president Joe Biden.

They will also take part in a series of St Patrick’s Day engagements in the city, focused on showcasing Northern Ireland’s economy and developing key relationships and networks across the United States.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and Stormont Economy Minister Conor Murphy are also in the US this week.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is in the United States representing the Republic of Ireland.

He has taken part in engagements in Boston and later this week will present Mr Biden with the traditional shamrock bowl, as an extension of St Patrick’s Day greetings from the people of Ireland to the people of the United States.

Just weeks after the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland, Ms O’Neill said it was vital to seek every opportunity to attract investment.

“I am ambitious for a brighter future for our people and I want to harness the benefits of the special connection between ourselves and the US,” she said.

“This relationship was crucial to our peace process and continues today through investment, knowledge sharing and support.

“Now that government here is back up and running, it is vital that we seek every opportunity to attract investment, grow our economy and deliver for our citizens.”

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Ms Little-Pengelly said the events they would attend, which included the Ireland Funds Gala and meeting with the US Chamber of Commerce, would give them an opportunity to engage with influential decision makers.

“We have a strong relationship with the US and this week, our focus will be on showcasing Northern Ireland as a compelling investment opportunity and highlighting the many benefits of doing business here,” she said.

“These events give us the opportunity to engage with some of the most influential decisions makers at a senior level.

“I am confident they will see the potential we have to offer and recognise our commitment to doing everything we can to ensure Northern Ireland thrives.”