FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 8, 2008
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG SPEAKS AT THE U.S. – NORTHERN IRELAND INVESTMENT CONFERENCE
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech as prepared.
“Good afternoon, and thank you, Speaker Hay, for that kind introduction. And I want to thank Ministers Paisley and McGuinness – and everyone here – for giving such a warm welcome to our delegation, led by Dr. Dobriansky.
“Our delegation also includes the Speaker of the New York City Council, Christine Quinn, our Comptroller Bill Thompson, and our Public Advocate, Betsy Gotbaum. Christine’s family has roots in Clare and Cork. In fact, her grandmother was a passenger on the Titanic and was one of the only people in steerage to survive. I don’t know if Betsy and Bill can top that, but they tell me they both have at least one great-great grandparent who once set foot on this island – or at least thought about it.
“I arrived in Belfast this morning and got into the city with no problems, despite reports I had heard of cows running loose on the motorway. We have a lot of traffic problems in New York, but that isn’t one of them.
“In New York, mayors have traditionally practiced a foreign policy centered on what is called ‘The Three I’s’ – Ireland, Italy, and Israel. It just so happens that I will also be visiting Italy on this trip, although I won’t be making it to Israel, or as I call it: the auld sod. It was an honor to host Ministers Paisley and McGuinness at New York’s City Hall back in December, which I did with Speaker Quinn. I’m sure they felt right at home in New York, because the emigrants from this island hold a special place in our city’s history – both Catholics and Protestants, from North and South.
“They arrived in New York seeking opportunity, and in many cases, escaping poverty, famine, persecution, and repression. Once they landed, they left their mark on our politics, our police and fire departments, our theaters and newspapers, and on the physical landscape of our City. The Brooklyn Bridge, the subways, the Empire State Building – we probably wouldn’t have them without emigrants from this island. And if it wasn’t for O’Flanagan’s on 1st Avenue, I don’t know where I would have spent my Friday nights as a young man.
“It is nearly impossible to imagine New York’s history without our ties to Ireland – or American history, for that matter. The Declaration of Independence was signed by several men with roots in Ulster, and more than a dozen U.S. presidents also have roots here, or in the other three provinces. But since this conference is about the future, I’d like to look forward rather than backward. And from what I have been hearing and reading and from what I saw on my tour of Belfast this morning, there is an awful lot to look forward to in Northern Ireland.
“I want to commend Ministers Paisley and McGuinness for coming together to organize this conference, and for drawing the curtain back on a ‘New North’ that is now open for business. There has never been a greater force for peace than equal economic opportunity. The question for Northern Ireland’s political leaders is the same one we face in New York, and that all cities face: What can government do to help spur the investment that drives economic opportunity? The answers are generally the same no matter where you go, because most international companies are looking for the same key conditions: good schools and a well-educated workforce; good infrastructure, especially transport links to other commercial hubs; a good quality of life, with the kinds of diverse cultural opportunities that will help attract the best and the brightest from around the world; and, most importantly, peace and stability.
“In New York, we work extremely hard in each of these areas: we’re turning around a broken public school system – graduation rates are up 20 percent compared to six years ago. We’re investing $2 billion in the first new track of subway to be built by the city in more than 50 years. We’re investing $1.5 billion in our arts and cultural attractions, which helps explain why tourism is at an all-time high in New York: 46 million annual visitors and rising. Tourists and investors are also coming to New York because we’ve driven down crime to more than a 40-year low. I don’t cite those numbers to brag.
“I mention them because they highlight the fact that in the new global economy, cities are now in a competition to be the safest, most exciting, most-livable, most-talent-filled, and most-business-friendly. The good news for Northern Ireland is that you have potential advantages in each area and many friends who want to be helpful. Our delegation is here to offer support not only because America owes a debt to Northern Ireland, but also for a more selfish reason:
“A growing Northern Ireland is good for America – just as it is good for Unionists and Nationalists alike. Prosperity here will benefit America because it will create deeper markets for our exporters, more opportunities for our investors, and more business for our tourism industry. So it’s in our own interest to help – and I think we can, in four main areas: infrastructure, small business development, tourism and, of course, private investment.
“I’d like to touch briefly on each of them, beginning with infrastructure. As we all know, strong infrastructure is the foundation of economic growth, and there’s money to be made in building it. That’s why our municipal pension fund, which is overseen by Comptroller Thompson is investing $150 million in a company that will help develop public infrastructure across Northern Ireland. It’s a smart investment in an important trading partner. I think of it as a mini-Marshall Plan for Northern Ireland.
“The second area where we may be able to assist Northern Ireland concerns small businesses. In New York, we’ve worked hard to encourage and support small businesses in a number of ways, including by creating ‘Business Improvement Districts,’ or as we call them, BIDs. BIDs are public-private partnerships that enable small businesses to pay for things that will help attract more customers and more investment in the area: street beautification projects, extra sanitation services, and extra security measures.
“Our Commissioner of Small Business Services – a fellow named Walsh, with family roots here in Ulster – has visited Belfast to talk with the City Council about its interest in forming BIDs here. As you work to promote entrepreneurial growth and lessen the dependence on the public sector, we’re eager to share strategies that have worked well in New York.
“The third area where we can help is tourism. Most American tourists visiting this island fly to Shannon or Dublin, but they don’t know what they’re missing out on here in the North. The North has a wealth of historic and cultural attractions, along with some of the most beautiful rolling hills in all of Ireland – and I’m not just talking about the back nine at Royal County Down.
“It’s all here – but people need to know about it, and they need to know that ‘the Troubles’ are over for good. Attracting tourists is like any other business; you have to market your product. In New York, we’ve re-vamped our tourism arm, given it a $15 million annual marketing budget, and opened offices in cities around the world, including London and Dublin – an effort that Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey has helped lead.
“Kevin also led our effort to open Knock Airport in County Sly-go to direct US flights, which should help boost tourism here in Northern Ireland. Or at least make it easier for Kevin to visit his family. Americans are a natural audience for your marketing efforts, and as you continue to attract more of us, we will continue to create more jobs in your hotels, restaurants, theaters, and shops.
“Of course, it’s not just tourists who need to know about ‘The New North’ – it’s investors, who are the fourth group of Americans who can help, and many of them are here today. This morning, I took a tour of the Titanic Quarter, which is loaded with investment opportunity – and the plans for it remind me very much of what we are trying to do on Manhattan’s Far West Side. All the great cities of the world are working to re-develop their waterfronts, and all of us can learn from each other.
“London has done it with spectacular success at Canary Wharf, and Dublin has done it with its International Financial Services Center. The Titanic Quarter could do for Belfast what the I.F.S.C. has done for Dublin – and the wheels are already turning. Last month’s announcement that financial services companies based in Dublin will be able to open offices here while still enjoying certain tax benefits is expected to create thousands of new jobs. And those high-value jobs will create thousands more jobs for businesses that exist to support them.
“I would be willing to bet that a decade from now, the Dublin- London-Belfast triangle could be one of the largest and most competitive financial hubs in the world – if, if – the political situation continues to improve. The fact is, the best and the brightest don’t want to live in a city defined by division. They don’t want to live behind walls. And they don’t want to live in a place where they are judged by their faith or their family name. The historic cultural barriers between the two communities are slowly coming down, and the sooner they do – and the sooner the physical barriers come down too – the sooner the floodgates of private investment will open.
“That brings me to the most important asset that New York has to offer Northern Ireland, which is not money or expertise but our spirit of tolerance. I want to congratulate Ministers Paisley and McGuinness for having the wisdom to see that while politics will always be defined by differences of opinion, economics offers a vast common ground that can unite diverse people around shared goals.
“In New York, people can’t even agree on the time of day, but we live together, we work together, and we prosper together. It is my hope that the defining element of New York’s history – which centers on people putting aside private religious and cultural differences and placing their public faith in democracy and capitalism – will be the defining element of Northern Ireland’s future.
“This morning, I caught a glimpse of what that future
can look like when we visited the Hazelwood Integrated College: Children from
both communities learning and playing together, as friends – the first
generation to know peace, equality, and economic opportunity. And they will be
the last, I believe, to grow up in the shadow of peace walls.
Stu Loeser / John Gallagher (212) 788-2958