On behalf of the UK Government, I’m delighted to welcome you all to Northern Ireland for this investment conference.
It’s also great to be able welcome you to Hillsborough Castle where, as Secretary of State, I have the privilege of being able to live. I don’t have it totally to myself, because this house is also the official residence of the Royal Family in Northern Ireland.
And last year it played host to Her Majesty the Queen during her hugely successful Diamond Jubilee visit. A visit that helped to break yet more new ground in moving Northern Ireland forward.
In fact Hillsborough is steeped in history.
Back in the 1770s the man who built this house, Lord Hillsborough, was Secretary of State for the American colonies and a fervent opponent of independence. So he invited the great American diplomat, Benjamin Franklin, to Hillsborough where he stayed for 5 days of discussions. Unfortunately for relations between Britain and America, Hillsborough and Franklin could barely stand the sight of each other, let alone come to any agreement. And this has led some to describe this place - with maybe just a hint of exaggeration - as the real birthplace of the United States.
More recently, Hillsborough Castle has been the backdrop for some of the most important negotiations in the Northern Ireland peace process. A process that has achieved so much and brought about the huge progress that’s been made here in the past two decades.
Northern Ireland now enjoys a degree of political stability not seen for half a century. Relations within these islands, north and south, east and west have never been better. And, as the most successful and peaceful G8 in memory so vividly demonstrated in June, Northern Ireland is a great place to live, work, visit and invest.
Of course there are still some difficult issues to be resolved. But Northern Ireland’s political leadership is committed to finding lasting solutions to these questions in the interests of the whole community. And in doing that they have the firm support of both the UK and the Irish Governments.
The economy in Northern Ireland is turning the corner and a key goal for the Government and the Executive here is to underpin political stability with economic prosperity. Both our two administrations are strongly pro-business and we are both determined to ensure that Northern Ireland can continue to compete with the best in the world.
So together, back in June, we published a new economic package under the heading, Building a Prosperous and United Community. Building on the success of the G8, a key element of the package is this conference.
Northern Ireland is one of the most successful parts of the UK for attracting foreign direct investment.
Over the next day, you’ll hear much about the strength of Northern Ireland’s economic offer. Its highly competitive cost base; its excellent transport links to London, Europe and the US; its top class telecoms infrastructure; its business-friendly tax and regulatory climate; and above all - its people.
It’s not just the fact that Northern Ireland offers a highly skilled and dedicated work force, it’s more than that. You’ll receive the warmest of welcomes if you bring your business here. That climate of friendliness, warmth and hospitality is one of the reasons why Northern Ireland is such a special place.
So thank you for coming to take part in this conference. I wish you every success tomorrow. You will be able to see for yourself some of the remarkable things that have been achieved in Northern Ireland over recent years.
And I hope to be able to welcome many of you back in the future as you follow in the footsteps of the major global companies who have come here and set up here and thrived here.