MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. We are very honored to be joined by Joseph Kennedy III, the Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs.
You can notify us of any technical difficulties at TheBrusselsHub – that’s one word – @state.gov. And finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record.
With that, let’s get started. Special Envoy Kennedy, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.
MR KENNEDY: Hi, everybody. John, thank you, and I want to thank everybody for taking a moment to join us, at least for me anyway, this morning. John, wondering if you just can confirm that you can hear me before I go off too far down the —
MODERATOR: Yes, sir, we can hear you.
MR KENNEDY: Okay, great. Thanks. So again, thanks, everybody, for making the time this morning. I am back from an incredible 11 days or so in Northern Ireland. It was a whirlwind trip and exciting, invigorating, and really powerful. I wanted to share a couple of takeaways with everybody.
So first, and most importantly, I wanted to begin by underscoring the importance that lasting peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland means for the United States. You heard President Biden make that case very clear at Ulster University in his speech, where he said that Northern Ireland’s future is America’s future. So as we develop economic opportunities and investment from communities across the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States, we all work to cement the hard-fought gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, promote that lasting peace, and build prosperity for generations that will come.
I had the extraordinary privilege of seeing firsthand the importance of those issues when I was with President Biden and accompanied him on that trip to Belfast a few weeks ago. We had an incredible time. Again, I was there for nearly two weeks, met with a number of key American businesses like Allstate, Seagate, Rapid7 We met with innovation hubs and catalysts in Ormeau Baths. We saw incredible innovators at AMP in Derry and Londonderry. We heard about the opportunities that are – exist in Northern Ireland across the board, the excitement, the energy, the – saw firsthand the talent that is there and eager to engage and build some of those opportunities going forward.
My role as special envoy is to try to build on that incredibly bright future in the region by promoting stronger economic engagement and people-to-people ties. Luckily, it is a very straightforward case for me to make. I think as many of you know, there’s already over 230 American businesses that are now operating and doing business in Northern Ireland that employ over 30,000 people. The United States is Northern Ireland’s largest source market for high-value foreign direct investment, predominantly in emerging high-value sectors. Over the last decade, political stability has drawn nearly $2 billion of investment from the United States alone, and today Northern Ireland has one of the highest concentrations of cybersecurity employment in Europe because it is the top investment location for U.S. firms working in that field outside the United States.
The second big takeaway, or along with that first, is that all of this success has been made possible by the people of Northern Ireland. It was a, as I said, wonderful visit across the entire region, from city center out to Derry and Londonderry, visiting a few sites with my family. My wife and two young children accompanied me on most of the visit. And you saw this – we all saw this firsthand. It was obvious that Northern Ireland – and the statistics bear this out – the happiest region – consistently voted as the happiest region in the UK and has the lowest crime rate. It boasts the fact that they have almost full employment. And skills have built from strength to strength, and the number of active people with degrees has doubled over the past several – well, in past decades.
Northern Ireland is home for more than 1,200 international companies, and critically, over 70 percent of them, after they invest once, they reinvest in the region. And critically important is, again, that talent where you see that Queen’s University Belfast is ranked number one in the UK for its entrepreneurial impact.
Folks, if there was a seminal takeaway message for me, it’s that this is a place that is energized, is resilient, it is capable, and they are excited for the opportunities and challenges before it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to champion the people of Northern Ireland, the region of Northern Ireland, make sure that it is on the radar of U.S. companies and primed for investment, and I’m happy to say that it already is from a number of conversations that I’ve had before my visit and certainly after. I look forward to working with those leaders here in the United States, those already in Northern Ireland for – over the course of the next weeks and months and hopefully years to come to ensure that we are able to fully take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity.
And that’s it from me, so thanks very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. I appreciate those opening remarks. We will now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing. We’ll go to a pre-submitted question from Ellen Milligan, Bloomberg in the UK. “Which industries in Northern Ireland are U.S. investors keen to invest in, and will investment come regardless of the political stalemate or is that having a chilling effect?”
MR KENNEDY: Ms. Milligan, thank you for the question. I think across the board, from a number of different American executives that I’ve spoken with from a number of different industries, one, they are aware of the opportunity in Northern Ireland; two, they’re obviously encouraged by the announcement of a Windsor Framework and looking carefully at what those potential impacts will be and trying to get a deeper understanding of that process and what a Stormont break will be and how that might be used going forward.
Obviously, as a number of folks said throughout the course of the conference at Queen’s University, having government up and running will – the stability and clarity that it provides will certainly help make that case, although I will say the importance of that will depend, I think, and does depend a bit sector to sector and perhaps even company to company. I was at, as I think you’re aware, (inaudible) there was a major UK cybersecurity conference in Belfast last week as well, somewhat overlapping with the Good Friday – Belfast Good Friday celebrations. And I had the opportunity to speak at the conference and then go around the conference floor there for a while and meet dozens of companies and individuals.
And I did ask that question a bit as to whether the lack of political – the lack of an executive was having an impact on that industry in particular, and the response I got from a number of those companies was no, that what Northern Ireland had been able to incubate already in the region that has attracted top-tier talent, that has essentially 0 percent unemployment rate for folks that have those qualifications, that has other cyber firms either looking to invest in Northern Ireland or looking to expand their operations in Northern Ireland, that they have created a cluster that is not necessarily immune but resilient to some of these other factors, right? And intuitively, one can imagine that that makes some sense if you already have three, four, five hundred employees on the ground in a space, the question of are you going to hire five, 10, 15, 20, 50, 100 more is going to be largely driven by conditions on the ground rather than perhaps larger geopolitical factors. Whereas if you’re asking somebody to build a billion-dollar plant someplace, they might want to see some additional aspects of stability.
So my – what I have expressed to leaders, business leaders in the UK, in Northern Ireland, and in the United States is my job, what the President of the United States asked me to do, was to champion that cause, to try to provide answers to questions, to try to build that case as best as we can, and be responsive to the questions and concerns that might come up. And so far people are excited, and so am I.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We’ll go to a live question now. James Crisp. Mr. Crisp, you have the mike.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes we can, sir.
QUESTION: Hello. Hi. Thank you for this. I understand all of the arguments about an investment opportunity. And I’m sorry, it’s James Crisp from The Telegraph of London here.
MR KENNEDY: Hi.
QUESTION: But I suppose if the DUP was here on this briefing, they might ask you, Mr. Kennedy, if you could see any amount of money being enough for the U.S. to accept border controls between – I know Colorado and Kansas, even if the circumstances there have been as unique and difficult as Northern Ireland.
MR KENNEDY: I appreciate the observation there, Mr. Crisp, and I think my response to that would be the Windsor Framework provides a unique opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to be able to pursue, I think, a profound and robust economic future. Issues with regards to identity and with regards to economic opportunity don’t need to be in conflict. And so I think what – how I view this in my capacity in this role is to very much not say it’s one or the other, but it’s ways that – to express ways and understand that there’s ways for individuals that are proud of and continue to prioritize their – that identity as a citizen of the United Kingdom and as British while also recognizing that there’s economic opportunities that don’t have to dilute that or impact that.
And it’s working diligently through and enabling a political process to take place so that they can work through those details. And by the way, those details are being worked through at the moment, which we support. This is not – these are not easy questions, and as you point out, there’s challenges around those very same topics in my own country here in the United States. So I don’t minimize that and I don’t dismiss that at all. What I think we need to have is a good-faith effort and a recommitment to working through that process.
And by the way, in all of my conversations with members of and leaders of the DUP, that’s what I’ve received and that’s the impression I have.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We’ll go to another pre-submitted question now from Jude Webber from the Financial Times in Ireland. Sorry, I just lost the question. He asks, “How is the investment conference to be held this autumn in Northern Ireland shaping up? When can we expect a U.S. trade delegation to visit?”
MR KENNEDY: That’s a great question. So very excited about it, excited for a great response and interest from individuals that I’ve spoken with, again, on both sides of the Atlantic about this. Details are to come, and I appreciate the fact that there’s – folks are eager to get some answers there. What I will say is the President announced this obviously publicly recently; I then had a whirlwind 10 days or so in Northern Ireland and the opportunity now to – which was critically important for me to be able to get some feedback from business leaders and civil society leaders in Northern Ireland about how they would want to – what they would like to see in that trade delegation, industries that they would like to see represented, target companies. Getting a feel for – a larger feel for and current feel for the region gives me the ability to kind of now go back and have conversations with a number of, again, businesses, trade associations, et cetera, here in the United States and start to engage in that topic and conversation to see how we can build that up to be something meaningful.
So I expect that’s going to be an iterative process. We’re going to want to get the timing right in the fall and a number of other factors that we’re kind of considering in it. But I think the President of the United States made it very clear that that was what he was asking me to do, and I look forward to doing it.
MODERATOR: Thank you for that. We’ll go to another pre-submitted question from Shawn Pogatchnik from Politico in Ireland. He asks, “Some exporters in Northern Ireland who are pro-protocol for rather obvious market access reasons have told Politico there is a chill factor in being able to say this openly for fear of political blowback, particularly if they’re based in predominantly Unionist communities. Did this issue feature in your discussions with firms, and if so, what support can you provide in helping Northern Irish firms talk more openly about the benefits they’re already experiencing or hoping to develop as Northern Ireland maintains EU single market access?”
MR KENNEDY: Yeah, it’s a great question. I would say, look, I spent nearly a decade as a member of the House of Representatives and I understand the complexities of the political process. And for those of you that are astute observers of the U.S. political process, you would note that they’re working through some sensitivities on some major challenges here this week as well. And so again, none of this is easy and none of this is – there are certain aspects of this that are unique to Northern Ireland, but there is a lot of it that is shared across many democracies at the moment.
So what I would say is, look, part of this is – respectfully, part of this is very new. Right, the Windsor Framework and that agreement was just rolled out a few weeks ago. That’s a huge step forward, and yes, a lot of negotiation, a lot of effort that went into it, which has a – which, again, I applaud and a lot of credit that is deserved across the board from the EU and the UK from sitting down and doing that, putting in the required work and diligence to do it.
After that is announced and then some questions about how some of those details will work, with some clarify and some certainty, the confidence will come from that. And I think expecting smaller firms that are in politically sensitive environments to be able to have the confidence to turn around and lead out in front of that is probably putting an onus on them that is not – that isn’t wholly fair.
What I think we – what I hope to do a bit over the course of, again, my engagement in this role is to be able to show those opportunities for U.S. investment, make the case for broader economic opportunity, but then critically here, and for those of you that happened to listen to my remarks or see the remarks that I gave at Queen’s, our job is to really push those opportunities out into communities that haven’t experienced the – as broad a benefit of a peace dividend as others have. Right?
And look, again, this is a challenge that the United States is confronting in our own economies here locally as well. My hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, perhaps as much as anywhere, where for folks that have a college degree or graduate degree, they have very high median household incomes, they have – my old constituency, my old district that I represented, wealthier suburbs of Boston in the north – doctors and lawyers and bankers and old post-industrial manufacturing communities in the south with a median household income of a quarter of what they were in the north and education attainment a third of what it was in the north.
And so I am very sensitive to those realities, but part of what we can do in this is – and this will take some time; this isn’t going to be immediate – but is really dedicate effort and intent and a deliberateness to actually put together a plan and work with local leaders, civil society, business leaders and political leaders to make sure that communities that didn’t necessarily benefit as greatly as they might have hoped from that peace dividend or from Brexit or might be experiencing some of the – might see some value in a Windsor Framework that they’re not wholly able to get behind yet – to give them the ability to make the case to other parts of their community that there is some benefit here, to given them the confidence to step out and to point to those opportunities and examples. But you can’t just leave that on a business owner to be able to say or a business to be able to lead through that when, again, as was referred to earlier, there’s some much larger questions of political sensitivities that are lurking through all this.
And so I understand that. I don’t minimize the challenge there. But it just means we all have some work to do, but it’s good work to do and there’s good things to point to.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We will go to another pre-submitted question from Niamh Campbell from the Belfast Telegraph in Northern Ireland. “Exactly what kind of investors do you, Special Envoy Kennedy, plan on bringing or introducing to Northern Ireland? Do you have a specific timeline in mind of when investment will take place? And what are the main economic opportunities that you foresee in Northern Ireland?”
MR KENNEDY: That’s a great question and I appreciate it. What I have told business leaders in Northern Ireland and what I have told leaders of the executive, chief executive in Northern Ireland, civil service executives in Northern Ireland, what I’ve told businesses here in the United States – the message remains the same. It’s I am not going to design a grand plan for development and investment in Northern Ireland. Norther Ireland already has a plan of prosperity. They’ve got a 10X plan that is detailed, is deliberate, is intentional, has stakeholder buy-in, that articulates a vision for key sectors and key communities for that vision for Northern Ireland going forward.
My job, and what I’ve told Jayne Brady and her team and a number of businesses, again, American and from Northern Ireland, is my goal is to support them, that vision, and to try to be that champion, to be able to further and advance those prospects.
So when we talk about what companies, what sectors, what areas, it’s taking direction from some of those leaders that have already – that have the credibility and have done the work already. So there’s a number of industries write large. I mean, cyber obviously is an obvious one given the strength of the sector already in Northern Ireland. But there’s a number of other opportunities as well from manufacturing, life sciences, obviously film and creative arts, which is – has been getting an awful lot of attention of late as well, tourism sector writ large, sustainability where Northern Ireland already is leading but has an enormous chance to lead.
And so working in tandem with those individuals and taking my lead from them, direction from them about who they think would be the right fit and right target, how can I leverage the opportunities from this position and my own personal contacts and others to be bale to enable the right individuals from Northern Ireland to be able to make that pitch; who are the validators of that pitch that we can get to wrap around and say, hey, you don’t need a former member of Congress’s articulation as to why this is a great place to invest. Go talk to the CEO of Rapid7, who’s based here in Boston, as to why they put 500 employees there. Go talk to the folks at Citigroup as to why they have nearly 4,000 employees in Belfast, and enable them to help make that case as well. And I should say working in tandem with our ambassador in London, Jane Hartley, who has been focused on these opportunities and issues as well, I’m looking forward to being able to really dive in here.
The last piece on this is I understand the focus in the questions and much of the attention on the kind of business side of it and the business engagement. One of the critical issues that continues to come up repeatedly is skills, and that’s going to be something that I am spending a lot of time with as well because Northern Ireland has this interesting challenge – again, not unlike other parts of the world, and even my hometown here in Boston – where for folks that have that college degree or that credential, third-level credential or the credentials that are necessary, unemployment rate is essentially zero or close to it. It becomes a – the question becomes: How can you put more people into a skilled work environment? How do you make sure that those skills are being acquired and they’re the right ones for that moment?
And that’s a hard question and that will take a little bit more time to build up. It’s not just a question of, hey, recruiting a company to come to Belfast because Belfast is great. Belfast is great. We want that company to come, we want those companies to expand. Part of that is talent, by the way. And so trying to really dive down, unpack these layers, move back up that system and to try to say, okay, well, where is it that we can be effective? How is it good? We can really try to take advantage of or really dive into some of the structural obstacles that are in place that are preventing Northern Ireland from being able to achieve that full potential. That is a kind of more nuanced interpretation from my perspective of this role, but I think that’s also what the role calls for at this moment. Belfast is able to, Northern Ireland is able to make that case already to a number of firms about what they should invest. They don’t need me to do it. They’re already lining up. What we need is yes, some particular perhaps strategic assistance in some of those spaces, but then trying to address some of the larger structural barriers as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today. Thank you all for your questions and thank you, Special Envoy Kennedy, for joining us. Before we close the call, I’d turn it back over to you to see if you have any final thoughts for the group.
MR KENNEDY: Thanks very much, everybody. Grateful for your interest, your participation on the call. I hope that we can continue this conversation going forward. I, as you can probably tell, am a big believer in Northern Ireland. I’m a big believer in the people, the place. I’m even a big believer in the weather. So I look forward to engaging with you all further as the opportunities arise and hope that some of you might be able to attend either one of my upcoming visits or perhaps that trade delegation once we get those dates set, and we’ll certainly be in communication with all of you as that comes together.
But thanks very much. Have a great week and a good weekend, and stay well and stay safe.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir.
MR KENNEDY: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Shortly we will send the audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub – one word – @state.gov. Thanks again for your participation and we hope you can join us again in the future for another press briefing. This ends today’s briefing.
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