Background Briefing on Northern Ireland
OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are on a listen-only mode until the question-and-answer session of today’s conference. At that time, press *1 if you’d like to ask a question. I would like to inform all parties that this call is being recorded. If you have any objections, please disconnect at this time. I now would like to turn the call over to Mr. P.J. Crowley. Sir, you may begin.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you very much, and good morning – or, depending on where you are, good afternoon.
Obviously, you heard a short time ago from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, welcoming the developments in Northern Ireland and the decision by its political leaders to move towards devolution of policing and justice powers as a critical step in the process of bringing full authority to Northern Ireland.
We thought that we would just have a senior Administration official kind of walk through a little bit of the background of that – the United States support for the parties as they have reached this critical decision. For your knowledge, in reporting this background session, obviously, attribute it to a senior Administration official. But we have [Senior Administration Official], who has in his portfolio and has been working with the parties for the last year to help them reach this important point.
So with that, [Senior Administration Official], you might have a few opening comments, and then we’ll take your questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, P.J. Hi, guys.
I just thought I would take a minute to kind of set the context and walk through the way in which the Secretary and the U.S. Government has engaged in this process over the course of the past year since the Obama Administration came into office, capped off by pretty intensive engagement here in the past few weeks.
You all probably know that Secretary Clinton has a longstanding commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland that began in her days as First Lady. She’s got a personal investment in it and close personal relationships with many of the key players in Northern Ireland. And quite early on in her tenure, the leadership of Northern Ireland – the first minister and the deputy first minister – came to the United States around St. Patrick’s Day and met with her to talk about the ways in which she and the U.S. could be supportive in working through the devolution of policing and justice, and the other remaining outstanding issues from the Good Friday and St. Andrews agreements. And she made the decision, not too long after that, that she would be personally engaged at a very sort of regular – at regular intervals, and that she would use her own good offices and build on her own good relationships to lead the U.S. efforts with respect to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
At the same time, she also made the decision to appoint an economic envoy for Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly, to help the people and the leadership of Northern Ireland realize the benefits of the peace that they had built – to leverage investment, to promote opportunities for more investment in trade going both ways in the U.S. and Northern Ireland, and dispatched Declan to begin an intensive work program over there.
And as a sort of signal of her commitment, she made a trip to Belfast that many of you will remember, in October, and in the course of that trip not only had intensive discussions about how to help facilitate the terms of what ultimately became the agreement today, but also gave a speech to the parliament, to the Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, where she talked about her support for the process for devolution and the United States Government’s broader support for moving this process forward and consolidating the gains over the past decade.
She also, on a regular basis, was in touch with First Minister Robinson, Deputy First Minister McGuinness. She had phone calls at various times with other leaders in Northern Ireland, including Reg Empey, Arlene Foster, talked regularly to Secretary of State Woodword. He visited the States on a couple of occasions. And at one point in the fall last year, she sent Jake Sullivan, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Secretary, to Northern Ireland, along with Declan Kelly, to do an intensive day of sessions with the parties to talk about the ways in which we could be helpful in facilitating and supporting the work that they were doing.
And over the course of the past three weeks, as the discussions have intensified, her engagement also intensified. She did a round of calls with the stakeholders, with Sinn Fein and the DUP and the UUP, with Gordon Brown. She spoke with both Secretary of State Woodward and Foreign Minister Martin and has sort of stood by – and stood by, looking for the critical moments where she might be able to place a call that would help provide the sort of support and encouragement that she felt the parties needed to get across the finish line.
And that has been against the backdrop of her view that the overall U.S. role in all of this is to do exactly that, to be the encourager, the facilitator, a supporter, and in both her personal capacity and the U.S. government as a whole, to provide support beyond mere encouragement through the economic envoy.
And so in the coming days or weeks, she’ll welcome First Minister Robinson and Deputy First Minister McGuinness back to the U.S. to start talking about how we can build on this through further investment and economic opportunity in Northern Ireland. And she envisions a continuing role over the course of the next year that looked a lot like the past year as this agreement moves forward into the implementation phase.
So with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll begin the question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1. Please unmute your phone and record your name clearly when prompted. Again, that’s *1.
Jill Dougherty, your line is open.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Thanks, [Senior Administration Official]. I appreciate your doing this. Could you tell us, was there anything that the Secretary said in the telephone conversations that you’ve had recently that changed the equation or pushed people, you know, further down the road toward this agreement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that she would be the first to say that this was an agreement that was forged by the parties in Northern Ireland and wouldn’t want to take credit for having changed the equation. She feels like it was really the parties working through the process that got them where they needed to go. That being said – and she would add to that, obviously, Brown – Prime Minister Brown and Taoiseach Cowen and playing a critical role in brokering, in a very intensive way, what was happening.
So with that backdrop, I think her role was really both as a diplomat, but also as a former politician, being able to speak frankly with the parties about the considerations that they faced and how they could work through them to display leadership even in the face of certain challenges and constraints in their communities, across communities. And that type of advice, I think, was something that she felt was helpful in the process and was – allowed her to bring a sort of unique perspective.
I think the other piece of it was that she was able to talk to them about the ways in which they could leverage the benefits of this accord on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, that the United States’s support on the investment, the economic investment side once an agreement was reached, showing that there was forward progress and stability and strong institutions in Northern Ireland would pay dividends that would result in better opportunities for the people of Northern Ireland.
I would say in those two critical respects, her contributions had a positive impact on the process. But above all, it was – she was expressing her view that the United States is here to support the deal more than do the deal, and that the credit for that really goes to the parties themselves and then to the British and Irish Governments.
OPERATOR: Laura Marlowe from Irish Times, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hello, [Senior Administration Official]. Can you tell us a bit more about these economic dividends you just mentioned? That would be my first question. I also wondered – you said she was looking – she stood by looking for the critical moment when she might be able to place a call to help them across the finish line. I wondered, did she actually make a call within the last 24 hours that was sort of the game clincher?
And finally, do you have any idea of the date of First Minister Robinson and Deputy First Minister McGuinness’s visit to Washington? But most of all, what would be the size of the U.S. commitment to investment? Can you give us any amounts or even ballpark figures?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, I’m just making sure to write down the three questions so I didn’t forget any of them.
With respect to the economic investment, this is less about direct U.S. contribution – U.S. Government contribution – so it’s hard to talk about size. It’s more about leveraging the sort of power of the private sector, both in the United States and around the world, to see Northern Ireland as a place where there are many investment opportunities that can benefit both the people of Northern Ireland, the people of the entire island of Ireland, and the people of the United States.
And so her strategy was to appoint an economic envoy, Declan Kelly, who has strong ties on both sides of the Atlantic, who has a clear strategy for promoting investment by American companies and other companies in Northern Ireland, and promoting investment by Northern Ireland companies in the United States and elsewhere. And that resulted in – so far has resulted in a number of efforts in terms of working with companies.
And over the course of the next year, Declan, who can speak to this in much more detail than I can, will be looking to make announcements about investment opportunities, about decisions taken by companies to go ahead and invest in Northern Ireland. So I can’t put a dollar figure on it, but that’s the basic strategy. And having a single point person who has her full backing, who traveled with her when she went to Belfast, who met with senior economic leaders in Northern Ireland, who brought with him a trade mission of major U.S. investors, to have that kind of force projection – economic force projection – she sees as being the best way for the United States to help promote economic dividends in Northern Ireland.
And she sees that, in turn, as having significant political benefits, because the more that the people of Northern Ireland see their lives changed and improved and their opportunities increase because of the peace and stability that has been brought about by this series of agreements, the more likely the momentum continues.
With respect to a call in the last 24 hours, she didn’t make a call in the last 24 hours because she believed that having been in regular touch with the British Government and the Irish Government, and we at the staff level having been in regular touch with all of the players over there, that within the last 24 hours, this had reached a stage where it really was about the DUP working through its own internal party processes and coming to a final decision, and that she didn’t have a particular role to play in that. But within the last week, she has spoken with the parties and with Prime Minister Brown. And so as this set of negotiations reached a critical stage over the course of the past 10 or 20 days or so, she found time to reach out to the parties to talk to them about how to get to this final outcome.
And then in terms of firm dates for when First Minister Robinson and Deputy First Minister McGuinness will visit the U.S., those haven’t been set yet. As she earlier today, she spoke with both of them this morning, and we’re – they’re going to work out a time that works for them to come over and for her to host them in a way that is going to be most productive towards producing the kinds of economic investment opportunities that she talked about and that we’re committed to helping Northern Ireland with.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks.
OPERATOR: Colm Heatley with Bloomberg News, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I’m wondering if you could tell me more about the planned investment conference for Northern Ireland. It’s supposed to take place in early spring. And Gerry Adams today mentioned that Hillary Clinton was going to organize the event. Give me some idea of the scale of it, when it’s likely to happen, who might be involved.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that our plan right now is to take this one step at a time.
And the first step is going to be, as the Secretary said earlier today, to have First Minister Robinson and Deputy First Minister McGuinness come to Washington, sit down with her and Declan Kelly and other senior officials here at the State Department, and really think through in a step-wise way – and involve also the people at Invest Northern Ireland and other senior leaders in the Northern Ireland assembly, really think through in a step-wise way what the best timing, strategy, and shape of the entire investment enterprise will be. And whether that takes the form of a one-off conference or whether it takes some other form, I think is something she wants to do further consultations on before she announces any details or makes any decisions.
So I would say that our current thinking is to take this one step at a time, that she is absolutely committed to aggressive action in the near term on investment. But the precise strategy is something that has to be the result of a collective conversation of all of the stakeholders.
QUESTION: Okay. So there’s no real date, then, at all, and it isn’t actually final if it’s going to be a conference, as such?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there’s no date. And whether it looks like a conference of the sort that you saw – I can’t recall exactly when it was, maybe 2007 – is still under discussion with the British Government, the Irish Government, the parties in Northern Ireland, everybody who’s got a stake in this. It’s all still under discussion.
QUESTION: Okay. And just finally, then when do you think you would have a better idea about that? It’ll be (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we’ll have a better idea after she meets with the first minister and the deputy first minister.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Again, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1. I show no further questions.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Thank you very, very much. And obviously, this is an issue that we will remain focused on, committed to, will provide further details after we continue the conversations that [Senior Administration Official] has just mentioned with our counterparts and the other governments. So thanks very much, and shovel hard later on this afternoon.