Northern Ireland leaders urge ceasefire in Middle East during first joint visit to US

Northern Ireland's first minister has urged the United States to bring the same critical approach to pursuing a ceasefire in the Middle East that it once brought to Northern Ireland.

Michelle O'Neill and her power-sharing partner, Emma Little-Pengelly, the deputy first minister, are on a trade mission to Washington, where they will meet President Joe Biden at events marking St Patrick's Day.

The first minister said: "When it comes to the Middle East, firstly, I will always recognise the constructive role that US administrations played in terms of the peace process.

"I don't believe we would have had the Good Friday Accord if we had not had the role of the United States, so we're grateful for that.

"But I think that same critical approach, practical approach, that they applied to the Irish peace process, they now need to apply to the Middle East."

In their first joint interview since assuming office six weeks ago, the first minister and deputy first minister agreed that power sharing makes a difference in terms of attracting foreign investment.

Ms Little-Pengelly said: "I do think that positive, joint leadership here this week is really important.

"We're here as Irish and Ulster-Scott and in America, those are the two big traditions that have had so much influence over the centuries, not just in politics and presidents, but in terms of business and industry and that's what we want to tap into."

Ms O'Neill said: "We've had a very difficult past, but we are new generation leaders, and I'm determined we keep our eyes fixed on the future and what we can do to better all people's lives."

Ms Little-Pengelly added: "We've been determined to build that good working relationship.

"We know there are big challenges coming up... but by working constructively through that, building that robust relationship, it gives us the best chance of finding solutions.

"We are jointly sending that message that we want to focus on the things where we can agree, get that consensus."

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Asked if America had something to learn from two women, who are not retirement age, sharing power in government, they chose their words diplomatically.

Ms O'Neill said: "Domestic politics is for the American people. We're relatively young, we can still say that, and determined to do our best to lead.

"People have their own observations about American politics, but I'll stay out of that and beat our own drum in terms of what we're trying to achieve regarding inward investment."

Ms Little-Pengelly said: "There's a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of goodwill for us and for Northern Ireland, and we want to maximise that for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.

"We can't grow our economy alone, we need foreign direct investment, and we want to make Northern Ireland the thriving, better place we want it to be."