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O’Neill and Little-Pengelly thank Joe Biden for support at St Patrick’s event

US President Joe Biden has been told by Stormont’s leaders that they appreciate his support during a “positive” meeting at a St Patrick’s Day reception.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly met Mr Biden at the White House on Sunday as the traditional March 17 events rounded off a week of engagements.

Ms O’Neill said business figures they spoke to were left with “a clear understanding” on why they should invest in Northern Ireland, while Ms Little-Pengelly said the week had been “key” for extending relationships in the US.

Sinn Fein had come under pressure to boycott St Patrick’s events in the US over support for Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

Speaking after the meeting on Sunday, Sinn Fein Stormont leader Ms O’Neill said the aim of the US trip was “to seek out investors and companies and showcase everything Northern Ireland has to offer”.

The Stormont leaders’ itinerary included the Ireland Funds Gala; a roundtable discussion with the US Chamber of Commerce; and the Speaker Mike Johnson’s luncheon in the US Capitol with Mr Biden and Irish premier Leo Varadkar.

“Both Emma and I have had a very positive experience, meeting business leaders from a wide range of sectors who were left with a clear understanding of why they should invest in the north.

Northern Ireland politicians visit the US
First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly meeting Joe Biden and Joseph Kennedy in the China Room of the White House (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

“We also impressed upon President Biden that we appreciate his continued support, including the work taken forward by the Special Envoy Joe Kennedy III.

“Over the coming months we will continue to build on the connections we have made in the United States in order to grow our economy for the betterment of our citizens.”

Ms Little-Pengelly said they discussed with Mr Biden the importance of US engagement and investment in “securing a thriving, brighter future for everyone”.

“Throughout our engagements this week, we have been promoting Northern Ireland as a great place to live, visit and invest in.

“We are a global leader in sectors such as cyber security, regtech, fintech, advanced manufacturing and health sciences with a young, skilled and dedicated workforce. I am confident those influential decision-makers we have met with have been very impressed by what they have heard.

“This week has also been key in extending our network and relationships within the US, demonstrating that we are open for business and committed to building stability and prosperity through investment.”

Earlier in the week Mr Biden hailed the return of powersharing in Northern Ireland as a “very positive step forward”, while Mr Varadkar said his “abiding memory” from the trip was seeing the “powerful” appearance of the two politicians on stage together.

Speaking on Sunday night, Mr Varadkar said that lessons can be learned from the peace process in Northern Ireland, “particularly the concept of parity of esteem”.

He told the reception event: “Mr President, as you know today we are joined here in the White House by Michelle O’Neill as First Minister of Northern Ireland and Emma Little-Pengelly as deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

“A joint office in which they are co-equal. Two courageous women demonstrating every day what’s possible by putting aside old animosities and working together.

“The Good Friday Agreement is working again and I thank you all so much for making that possible.

“I think they have got off to a great start. The Irish Government is working with them and the Executive in Belfast to build on the peace and prosperity that has been achieved in the last 26 years and to make sure it is shared by all.”