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Northern Ireland continues to punch above its weight

Derry/Londonderry is marking 400 years as a walled city


By Norman Houston

Though celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement are coming to a close, and amidst lingering concerns over Brexit and the current political impasse at home, Northern Ireland continues to punch above its weight on the international stage.

The success of television shows like “Game of Thrones,” a growing interest in Northern Ireland as a top travel destination, and our reputation as a global leader in the fields of peace, security and conflict resolution, have helped dramatically raise the profile of the region over the past few years -particularly in the United States.

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Although we represent the smallest region in the United Kingdom (with a population of 1.8 million), the Bureau’s influence in the United States is significant. Over 34.5 million Americans trace their ancestry to Northern Ireland, and this shared heritage has made us a popular destination for U.S. investment and tourism.

Presently, America is our number one foreign direct investor, employing just under 27,000 people at 185 companies. Household names like Citi, Allstate, IBM, and many others have all taken advantage of Northern Ireland’s highly skilled workforce and strong pro-business climate to drive innovation and growth.

And investment now flows both ways.

Northern Ireland-based companies like First Derivatives, Almac and Randox are well-established in the United States, creating an influx of new jobs and opportunities each year.

We continue to excel in the fields of cybersecurity, financial and global business services, and aerospace technology. And, the region’s television and film industries are thriving. Invest NI’s work in the United States has cemented Northern Ireland’s status as one of the U.K.’s most attractive regions for global investors.

Northern Ireland has also fast become a top tourism destination.

Each day, thousands of tourists are discovering the ancient majesty of the Giant’s Causeway or exploring new attractions like Titanic Belfast, which was voted the “World’s Leading Tourist Attraction” in 2016.

They’re visiting Bushmills, the island’s oldest distillery, cycling along the Peace Bridge in Derry/Londonderry, or traversing the storied paths once taken by literary giants like C.S. Lewis, Seamus Heaney and, more recently, 2018 Man Booker Prize-winner, Anna Burns.

In 2017, Northern Ireland welcomed a record number of tourists from overseas. According to Tourism Ireland, the region attracts upwards of 2.2 million visitors each year.

And, the North American markets of the United States and Canada are among the most important, delivering an estimated 15 percent of all overseas visitors.

With the Open Championship returning to Country Antrim’s Royal Portrush Golf Club next year, and the many celebrations surrounding Derry/Londonderry’s 400th anniversary as a walled city, now is the time to visit Northern Ireland.

In April, 2018, we celebrated a significant milestone: the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

Heralded as an unprecedented achievement in multilateral diplomacy - facilitated by then-U.S. Senator George Mitchell - the Good Friday Agreement has, in many ways, become the yardstick by which reconciliation efforts are measured worldwide. In 2018 alone, the Bureau has partnered with dozens of organizations from across the United States to both commemorate the enduring legacy of the peace process and recognize America’s invaluable contribution.

This year, the Bureau was also involved in promoting Northern Ireland artists and musicians like Colin Davidson and Amanda St John, and supporting the work of organizations like Cinemagic and the Irish Rugby Football Union

We worked with our partner universities in the United States and Northern Ireland to facilitate dialogues around issues related to community building, policing reform, civil rights, and conflict resolution.

And, we partnered with the Ulster-Scots Agency to promote America’s deep-rooted Scots-Irish heritage in New Orleans and Brunswick.

Looking ahead to 2019, the Bureau will continue to champion Northern Ireland’s many political, economic, academic and cultural successes.

As always, the spotlight will be on Northern Ireland during the week of Saint Patrick’s Day, with events planned in Washington, D.C., New York, Dallas, and Toronto.

We will continue to work with our colleagues at the British and Irish embassies and consulates around the United States to support our mission. And, we will continue to collaborate with our many local and regional partners back home to showcase the very best of Northern Ireland - even in a post-Brexit world.

Lonely Planet named Belfast and the Causeway Coast “the number one region to visit” in 2018, and it’s easy to see why.

From castles and country inns to beaches and glens, from a thriving restaurant scene to a dynamic arts community, there is something for everyone. And, with the help of our friends in the United States, we will continue to share all of what makes Northern Ireland so special.

The Northern Ireland Bureau is the diplomatic mission of the Northern Ireland Executive in the United States and Canada.

The mission works to cultivate and strengthen links between various political, economic, educational and cultural interests in Northern Ireland and North America.

It also serves as a resource for individuals and organizations looking to learn and understand more about Northern Ireland and its relationship with the United States and Canada. You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Norman Houston OBE is Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington, D.C.

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