It is great to see you all here at the National Press Club in Washington this afternoon.
I am delighted to be here in Washington for the annual St Patrick’s celebrations at the White House to mark Ireland’s national day, and our close bonds of friendship, heritage and crucially our partnership for peace and prosperity with the United States of America.
In the coming weeks we will mark 25 years of peace and the signing of the Good Friday Peace Accord of 1998.
This historic peace accord which was painstakingly negotiated at that time was made possible due to the vast and substantial contribution from the United States under the administration of President Clinton.
President Bill Clinton at that time had appointed Senator George Mitchell as Special Envoy to specifically aid and support the Irish peace process and everyone, from across the community who took risks for peace.
They held a strong belief that peace was achievable, but also that peace, stability and economic prosperity were inter-connected, and there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the island of Ireland over a quarter century on has been truly transformed.
The Good Friday Peace Accord is one of the Clinton Administrations foreign policy successes, and we are thankful for the continued support from then until now where the United States remain a critical partner for peace.
This has been reaffirmed with the recent appointment of another US Special Envoy by the Biden administration in Joe Kennedy III. I was delighted to meet with him yesterday, and I really look forward to working with him now to deepen further US investment and economic growth to the benefit of all our communities at home.
We have developed close economic ties with US companies over the past two decades who have chosen the North of Ireland as their gateway to Europe, with FinTech, Cybersecurity, legal and other sectors all flourishing and providing a great return on investment which draws on our young, educated, high-skilled and dedicated workforce.
Twenty-five years ago the US property and liability insurance corporation, All-State were the first Foreign Direct investors to come to Belfast and Derry in the aftermath of the signing of the Good Friday Peace Accord, and thankfully remained now employing 2,500 people.
They also spurred on others to come too, including Citi, Baker MacKenzie, Liberty Mutual’s technology division, Liberty IT, Insurance Office of America and CME Group amongst many others.
As we look back with pride at just how far we have all come, and all that has been achieved, we also look forward with hope, ambition, and opportunity for the next twenty-five years.
In recent weeks we have seen agreement secured between the European Union and the British Government on the Irish Protocol. This mitigates against the worst impacts of Brexit on our island. It does so by;
Protecting the Good Friday Peace Accord.
Gives us access to the EU single market.
Enhances the All-Ireland economy and supply chains;
And crucially, avoids a hard land border on the island.
The new deal between Brussels and London gives us huge competitive advantage as a gateway to Europe for the sale of goods to two of the world’s largest markets unimpeded.
It is something we want to now seize and grab with both hands to build economic growth and help create thousands of new jobs in the coming years for our people.
This week has really started well with the terrific news that President Joe Biden will come to Ireland.
This sends a hugely strong message of support from the USA that we enjoy continued support for peace, stability, and economic prosperity in Ireland.
And I would be delighted to welcome President Joe Biden to Belfast as we celebrate twenty-five years of peace and the signing of the historic Good Friday Peace Accord in only a few weeks’ time.
Nine months ago, the people voted in an democratic Assembly election, yet no power-sharing coalition Government has yet been formed.
The democratic outcome of that election must be respected.
The onus is now on the British and Irish Governments, the Stormont parties, not least the DUP, to get back to business and form a Government which will support families and workers.
As the eyes of the world turn to Belfast once more, let’s take this opportunity to attract investment, create jobs for our young people, and together deliver the change people demand and rightfully deserve.
As incoming First Minister I am absolutely determined to work across party lines to co-operate with others, and to serve everyone as a First Minister for All.