Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland ‘open for business’, Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little Pengelly tell US investors at major Washington event

Michelle O’Neill said Executive representatives were in the US to advocate for the north and to set out shared priorities.

Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly
Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly in Washington DC Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly (Niall Carson/PA)

US investors have been told that Northern Ireland is “open for business” as Stormont’s political leadership addressed a major event in Washington DC.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly made the remarks at the Ireland Funds national gala, a key part of annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the US city.



The Sinn Féin and DUP pairing took centre stage at the event on Wednesday which was also attended by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaks at the Ireland Funds national gala
Taoiseach visit to the US Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaks at the Ireland Funds national gala (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Varadkar is on a week-long visit to Washington which will see him engage with US President Joe Biden at the White House on a variety of issues including economic ties between the two countries and the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

Representatives from the Stormont executive, which was restored six weeks ago after a long-running boycott by the DUP over post-Brexit trading arrangements, arrived in Washington DC for engagements with investors, community groups and politicians.

Ms O’Neill said Stormont representatives were in the US to advocate for Northern Ireland and set out shared priorities.

She said: “We’re also here with a clarion call to all US investors that we’re open for businesses, that government has been reinstated – it’s functional again.”

Ms Little-Pengelly said Northern Ireland is a place of “great hope, determination and ambition”.

She added: “We want to work hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder in terms of that investment and building that amazing future we know that Northern Ireland has.”

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris praised the two leaders’ message to the US audience.

Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly stressed they were in the US to advocate for Northern Ireland and set out shared priorities
Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly stressed they were in the US to advocate for Northern Ireland and set out shared priorities (Niall Carson/PA)

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “Two amazing women are leading their nation, bringing a message of positivity about the future about what Northern Ireland can achieve.

“I don’t think you can ask for a better message to this crowd”.

Mr Heaton-Harris said he would be using his time in the US to emphasise that Northern Ireland has unique economic opportunities and that the UK government is “always going to support” the north.

Asked if he felt the Westminster administration had to play catch-up with announcements from the Dublin government about investment in projects in Northern Ireland, Mr Heaton-Harris added: “I think we’re pretty comfortable with the £14.8 billion block funding and the £3.3 billion we stuck in to get the Executive back up and running.”

During his speech to the gala, Mr Varadkar said there was “new hope and new beginning” for Northern Ireland following the restoration of power-sharing.

He said: “We will do whatever it takes to help build and make the idea of a better future a reality for everyone.”

The Taoiseach told the crowd that Palestinian civilians are being subject to “humiliation and starvation” during the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Mr Varadkar has repeatedly said he will tell the US president that Irish people strongly believe there should be an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

He told the audience: “We, as Europeans and Americans that are at least in some part responsible for the troubles in the region, have a duty to do all that we can to bring peace and justice to the Holy Land”.

Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald speaking to the media at the gala
Taoiseach visit to the US Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald speaking to the media at the gala (Niall Carson/PA)

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald defended the party’s attendance at US events, amid calls for Irish politicians to boycott the Washington trip over Gaza.

Ms McDonald told reporters at the black-tie, $1,000-per-ticket gala that she would “talk to the devil himself” to bring about ceasefire.

She said: “I feel a huge sense of responsibility to do everything that I possibly can to bring about ceasefire, to advocate for the people of Palestine.”

The gala raised 1.2 million dollars for the Ireland Funds charity, which promotes peace, culture, education and community development across the island of Ireland and around the world.

Mr Varadkar and the Northern Irish political leadership were scheduled to continue engagements across Washington DC on Thursday.