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Last Updated: Friday, 7 December 2007, 16:55 GMT
Leaders take sales pitch to US
Jim Fitzpatrick
By Jim Fitzpatrick
Politics Show

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness rang the opening bell at the NASDAQ earlier this week.

Their images graced the giant news screen in Times Square.

The message they are sending is that Northern Ireland is now open for business.

Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley
Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley on the big screen on Times Square

They insist they haven't gone to America with a begging bowl.

Instead they've arrived with a sales pitch. Would you buy an inward investment proposal from these guys?

You'd better hope the answer is yes.

Like all good salesmen it appears they've got a series of prospects lined up, but are always on the look-out for opportunities.

So when they learned that Donald Trump's Scottish golf resort plans had landed in the rough, they were straight round to sell him the benefits of Antrim over Aberdeenshire.

Mr Trump has gone off the Scottish after they refused him planning permission for his ambitious resort.

The plan was also complicated by the refusal of one local farmer to sell his land to the developer.

Michael Forbes didn't think that Donald Trump had a high opinion of the locals. "He thinks we're all a bunch of cabbages," he told a US newspaper this week.

No doubt Donald Trump had a much better opinion of the first and deputy first ministers.

Mr Paisley promised to help, wherever possible, to ensure nasty planners or recalcitrant locals do not delay any Trump project should it come to Northern Ireland.

The American trip comes six months ahead of a US-backed investment conference in Belfast this May.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump has been hearing about the virtues of County Antrim

In the early days of the peace process economics was often used as cover for politics - George Mitchell was initially an economic envoy, and the first big US intervention was an "economics" conference in Washington attended by all the politicians who wouldn't have attended had the event been styled as a political talking shop.

Now it's the other way round - politics is being used to push business.

The story of Paisley and McGuinness is a surprising narrative that is being used to entice US investors into Northern Ireland, with the White House and State Department providing back-up political support.

The biggest problem they face, however, is simply the state of the global economy.

Inward investment is a buyers market with the number of buyers dwindling by the day.

Add to that the fact that there are plenty of other locations offering attractive discount packages that Northern Ireland cannot match and you have a very hard sell on your hands.

On this week's Politics Show Martina Purdy will report from the US on how the dynamic duo have fared and Economy Minister Nigel Dodds, just back from the States, will join me in the studio to assess progress to date.

PS - Sammy Wilson, chairman of the Education Committee at Stormont, had a bit of fun at the Education Minister's expense this week, turning her own words against her and labelling Caitriona Ruane the Minister for "confusion and mess".

But his own press release issued in advance of the minister's statement contained a howler of a spelling mistake - twice. School principals, referred to in the Mr Wilson's statement, were spelt "principles".

It's hard to believe that the former teacher and examiner could have made such a mistake - perhaps the fault lies somewhere else - confusion and mess all round.


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