Northern Ireland

How the US conference unfolded

US conference
Image caption Hillary Clinton meets Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are ministers at odds on so many issues, not least our segregated education system.

But in Washington DC, their differences seemed small as they stood together and sent out a united message: Northern Ireland is a great place to invest.

Perhaps it was the tensions over education or just tiredness that made them seem gloomy at a pre-conference breakfast.

There the two ministers, joined by Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey and Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, announced two investments by Dow Chemical and Terex.

Sixty jobs may not seem a lot in the grand scheme of things but that's at least 60 lives transformed perhaps - and the chance for more investment to follow. The jobs are high-quality in that they are for graduates.

Whatever gloom or jetlag Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness were feeling in the morning, by afternoon, in the presence of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and executives representing one trillion pounds worth of assets, the two ministers were positively glowing.

There's nothing like power and money to brighten a politician's day. And what is more, the ministers held a one-to-one with the secretary of state.

Outside, the State Department looks rather functional, and there is no doubt that some corridors are rather drab, but the inner sanctum is dripping with chandeliers and opulence, not to mention past portraits of former secretaries of states adorning the blue rotunda.

The two ministers thanked the Secretary of State for her ongoing support, and that of her husband former US President Bill Clinton.

Indeed, Hillary Clinton not only oversaw the conference but spoke of her personal commitment to ensuring that peace also meant prosperity.

Peter Robinson, in buoyant mood, told reporters after that meeting that normally he would not be so keen to have the media around but regretted they were asked to leave the conference after the initial ceremony.

Image caption Hillary Clinton with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness in Washington

That's because he said the media would have been impressed with how executive after executive spoke of their regard for Northern Ireland as an excellent place to investment with high-quality people.

So impressive is Northern Ireland in fact there is speculation in Washington DC that more jobs may be in the pipeline - substantial numbers in the financial services sector.

These may be announced in the coming months. And Martin McGuinness hinted about more jobs in the film industry in the Titanic Quarter.

What is certain is that the buzzword in Washington was education.

Executives from Dow and Terex both pointed to the quality of our graduates as a big factor in their decisions to invest.

This has led to much ribbing of Sir Reg Empey, the employment and learning minister, whose department is responsible for higher education, colleges and universities.

Will Sammy Wilson, the finance minister, dare now to cut his budget? And will Peter Robinson let him?

That is the one dark cloud hanging over the Washington conference.

The chancellor's Spending Review is going to be challenging; more challenging, I think, than any threat from the dissidents.

One business executive dismissed dissidents as little more than a distraction.

As for Secretary Clinton she said republican dissidents must not be allowed to thrive.

She has shared much credit for recent jobs announcements with the US special envoy she appointed last year.

Declan Kelly appears to be a huge asset for Northern Ireland with an impressive rolodex of contacts.

Mr Robinson even joked in his address to the conference that both he and Martin McGuinness do whatever Declan Kelly tells them.

He took out a note he claimed Mr Kelly had given him, which read: "Don't mention the Ryder Cup… so I won't."

To much laughter, Mr Robinson then managed to get in a plug for our world-class golf courses.

So if you meet an American on the green any time soon, chances are they attended the Washington DC conference.

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