By James Brokenshire
Northern Ireland and the United States have a very special relationship.
It’s almost 20 years since the Belfast Agreement was signed and every step of the way the United States has -- to use a wonderful American phrase – “had our back.”
Unfortunately, my visit to Washington, D.C. and New York this week takes place against a backdrop of political stalemate in Northern Ireland.
Devolved government in Northern Ireland - which had enjoyed its longest unbroken run since the 1960s - has not now been functioning since the beginning of this year.
The UK Government, alongside our Irish partners, is determined to see devolved government re-established.
I want power to be exercised by those who should be exercising it: the Northern Ireland parties, who have been elected by the people of Northern Ireland to provide devolved government there.
The number of outstanding issues is relatively small, but the differences remain real. All parties have, however, emphasized their desire to remain engaged and to find a way to return to and resolve these issues.
After a short break for the summer, I intend to press ahead with a further intensive engagement process later in August.
Our overriding priority remains to reach agreement on restoring an inclusive power-sharing Executive - which is what the overwhelming majority of people across the community in Northern Ireland want, and what Northern Ireland needs.
I sincerely hope we can count on the continuing support of the Irish-American community to encourage the parties to find a resolution and re-establish the power sharing Executive in the best interests of Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s economy continues to recover from the Great Crash of 2008 and growth last year was 1.6 percent, whilst employment has hit record levels.
Unemployment is down from over 7 percent in 2010 to 5.3 percent today. Exports, too, are holding up well and currently valued at £7.8 billion - an increase of 12 percent on last year.
The U.S. is Northern Ireland’s number one foreign direct investor; so many Americans have already realized Northern Ireland is an excellent place to invest.
We have a highly educated, skilled and dedicated workforce. We have two world class universities with strong links to local business and commerce.
There are great transport links into the rest of the UK, Ireland, Europe, and beyond and with operating costs over 48 percent lower than London, and 14 percent lower than Dublin, Northern Ireland is a highly competitive place to do business.
But don’t just take my word for it. Our greatest ambassadors are the companies that have invested in Northern Ireland, for example the Executive Vice President of Allstate, who said “As a result of investing in Northern Ireland 15 years ago Allstate has saved over a billion dollars.”
Or the Executive Producer of “Game of Thrones,” filmed largely at the Titanic Studios in Belfast. As he put it: “I can’t imagine any other city or any other area where we could have done this show. Anything we throw at Northern Ireland they deliver.”
This is why we have attracted over 900 international investors, many of these from the U.S., employing over 75,000 people.
In the last financial year, 22 new companies chose to locate in Northern Ireland, while Belfast remains one of the world’s top locations for financial services technology investments.
Belfast, as well as the rest of Northern Ireland, will continue to be an attractive place to do business after United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
At the heart of everything we are doing as a government is the need to get the best possible deal for the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s economy is deeply integrated with both the rest of the UK and with Ireland and we must ensure we protect the integrity of the UK single market, whilst ensuring no return to the borders of the past on the island of Ireland.
We are determined, too, to protect the Common Travel Area that has provided for the free movement of people since the 1920s, and to maintain as frictionless a border as possible for people, goods and services between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
This determination is shared by both the UK and Irish governments, all Northern Ireland’s main political parties and, crucially, the European Union as dealing with the Ireland/Northern Ireland border is one of their priorities.
So while it is complex, we are confident that with political will solutions can be found.
Outside the EU, the United Kingdom will continue to thrive and have a strong and positive future - remaining always a staunch ally of the United States.
Our special relationship has been an example of international peace, democracy and security for over 70 years and we remain deeply committed to ensuring that it both endures and prospers.
James Brokenshire MP is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland