The Rt. Hon. David Trimble First Minister (Designate) of the
New Northern Ireland Assembly
NORTHERN IRELAND-OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Chairman: Robert J. Dechert
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Montague Larkin, C.A., Recently Retired Executive Director, The Ireland Fund of Canada and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Afjal Mohammad, Honour Roll Student, West Toronto Collegiate Institute; The Reverend Charles R. Plaskett, Minister Emeritus, Timothy Eaton Memorial United Church; Alison Metcalfe, Director for Canada, Northern Ireland Tourist Board; John Smith, Senior Manager, Global Private Banking, Royal Bank of Canada and President, British Canadian Chamber of Trade and Commerce; Robert P. Kelly, Vice-Chairman, Retail Banking, Toronto Dominion Bank and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Thomas Savage, Chairman, Northern Ireland Partnership and Immediate Past Chairman, Ireland Fund of Canada; and Terry Curran, British Consul General and Chief Commercial Officer for Canada.
Introduction by Robert J. Dechert
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a very special honour for me to welcome you today to this joint luncheon meeting of The British Canadian Chamber of Trade and Commerce and The Empire Club of Canada.
It is a rare privilege for me, as Past President of the British Canadian Chamber of Trade and Commerce and the new President of The Empire Club of Canada to see so many of my old and new friends in the same place.
Recently, I had the good fortune to visit our guest speaker's homeland and I must confess that, contrary to my expectations, I found Northern Ireland to be a beautiful, peaceful and prosperous land.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to visit the "Ulster folk park" village and museum where I learned of the many famous citizens of Northern Ireland who have contributed so much to science, technology, business and the arts around the world including Canada.
Timothy Eaton, for whom Reverend Plaskett's church is named, is an interesting example of the many Ulster ex-patriots who have had a profound and beneficial impact on the history of Canada.
David Trimble is continuing this long tradition of leadership by making an historic contribution to the peace and prosperity of his country and forging a settlement of one of Europe's oldest domestic disputes.
Mr. Trimble graduated in law from Queen's University of Belfast in 1968 and served as a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Queen's until his election as the Member of Parliament for Upper Bann in 1990. He was chosen as Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in 1995. In 1998, he was awarded the Nobel prize for peace jointly with [John] Hume for his extraordinary efforts in achieving the Good Friday Accord. On July 1, 1998, Mr. Trimble became the First Minister of Northern Ireland.
As many of you will recall, Mr. Trimble addressed the Empire Club last October on the occasion of his first visit to Canada.
In that address, he reminded us of several successful investments by Canadian companies in Northern Ireland and pointed out many new business opportunities in Northern Ireland that have resulted from the availability of highly skilled labour and lasting constitutional peace.
Mr. Trimble has agreed to provide us today with a status report on the implementation of the peace accords and the economic outlook for his country.
Ladies and gentlemen, please help me in welcoming The Rt. Hon. David Trimble to the podium of The Empire Club of Canada.
It is a great pleasure to be back in Toronto for the second time in the year since my inauguration as First Minister (Designate) of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. I greatly enjoyed my last visit and it is a mark of the importance that Canada holds in the eyes of Northern Ireland's people that I have returned so soon.
That the affection we have for Canada and particularly for Toronto is reciprocated is shown by your willingness to have me back after such a short interval and I thank both the Empire Club and British Canadian Chamber of Commerce for their invitation.
The links between Northern Ireland and this part of Canada are very old and pre-date the formation of Northern Ireland as a political entity and indeed the Canadian federation. The Empire Loyalists who came to Canada after the American War of Independence included many emigrants from what is now Northern Ireland.
While our friendship may be rooted in history, the modern links between us are in many ways more important and have become increasingly valuable in recent years.
Canadian companies now play a role in the Northern Ireland economy which can be described with absolutely no exaggeration as vital to our prosperity. Nortel Networks, that I visited in Ottawa yesterday, became established in the northern suburbs of Belfast through its purchase of Standard Telephones in 1991.
Nortel inherited a plant which had been set up as a production platform in the 1960s and which had kept faith with its Northern Ireland employees through the worst of the Troubles. In 1988 it was the first such plant to introduce a major engineering centre at a time when very few other companies undertook R and D or product innovation at plants distant from their headquarters.
It is very much to Nortel's credit that it has strongly supported this facility which quickly succeeded in designing new products and winning new export markets and has become a particularly valuable asset in Northern Ireland's industrial base. Under Nortel's management the centre has flourished and I remember Ian Craig saying on my last visit that the last three R and D projects had come in ahead of time and under budget.
I am pleased, though not surprised, by last week's excellent news that Nortel's Northern Ireland facility has been selected as one of Nortel's seven global systems houses. It will be one the company's core centres across the world. This will secure the future of the facility as a player in world electronics design and production, maintaining a vital presence for Northern Ireland in this most important of sectors.
Even more important for Northern Ireland is Bombardier's subsidiary, the Shorts aircraft company, which is by a large margin our largest manufacturing company.
Shorts was a formerly state-owned company but one which has gone from strength to strength since becoming part of the Bombardier group in 1989.
It has succeeded in producing the quality of work necessary to be one of the major suppliers of components to Boeing. As part of Bombardier it survived and quickly recovered from the collapse of a major customer, the Dutch aircraft manufacturer Fokker.
Shorts provides our most important foothold in worldclass high-tech manufacture. It is also at the cutting edge in the development of close-in air defence systems such as Starstreak. We are delighted that it found a home in the Bombardier group, a company which presents such a splendid model for business success, starting as it did in a small way building snowmobiles and growing spectacularly to its position today as the world's third-largest civil aircraft manufacturer.
I am particularly pleased that I will be in Canada to mark the roll-out tomorrow of Bombardier's new 70-seat Canadair Regional Jet, the CRJ700, partly designed and produced in Northern Ireland. We do most of the fuselage.
Three decades of political instability and violence have inhibited the modernisation of our economy. Old industries have been supported through a regime of generous government subsidy with the result that almost half of our manufacturing employment remains in low wage sectors including textile, clothing and food.
Our engineering sector has remained too small and without companies like Nortel and Shorts it would have been very weak indeed. The strength of these companies means that we now have a firm base on which to expand in a new era of peace.
New world-class companies have come in the last few years often from North America but also from the Far East and include Emerson Electric, Seagate and Daewoo. It has been possible to point to Shorts and Nortel as well-established and successful world-class players to help convince potential investors that Northern Ireland is indeed an excellent location for business success.
Since 1990 over 45 companies from North America alone have invested well over a billion dollars in setting up or expanding their operations in Northern Ireland.
The large number of North American firms which choose to expand in Northern Ireland year after year might be enough to convince many investors of the benefits of an Ulster location. But these firms also tell us more directly about what they see as our strengths.
Quality of labour usually comes on the top of this list. We have a young and well-educated population. Our schools consistently produce the best examination results of any U.K. region.
Employees in Northern Ireland know that no one owes them a living. As a region on the edge of Europe with an unfavourable political reputation, the only sure way of creating and keeping well-paid jobs is to ensure that they themselves make a real contribution to the competitiveness of their companies.
Many companies tell us that they find that their Northern Ireland workers adapt well to changing conditions including the managerial revolution of flat hierarchies and devolved responsibility for such things as product quality.
Northern Ireland can claim to be a highly profitable location in which to do business. Low costs of labour and of premises are augmented by a business-friendly tax regime which exempts manufacturers from property taxes and provides a number of reliefs from profits tax, including 100-per-cent tax relief on depreciation for smaller companies.
All of this comes on top of one of Europe's most generous grant regimes which offers a very attractive package of tax-free set-up incentives to the potential investor. For many types of business this is a package of incentives which cannot be bettered anywhere.
We are not however about to sit back on this record. We plan to do better still. Our aim is to make Northern Ireland the most business-friendly region within the European Union-whether in planning regulations, training facilities, or a first-class transport and telecommunications infrastructure. With the fine record that Canadian firms have already had in Northern Ireland I hope that others will join this queue. I can give a personal undertaking that once in office the new administration will do everything possible to welcome Canadian investors and to ensure that they prosper in Northern Ireland.
Let me turn now to the formation of the new administration and the current political situation.
As you know the historic Belfast Agreement was signed on Good Friday last year with the aim of ending a violent conflict which had lasted for almost 30 years.
The Agreement went well beyond the norms of international conflict resolution in accommodating deep differences of view on how Northern Ireland should be run.
It arranged for all of the main parties from both traditions to take seats in government proportional to their electoral strength. This means that relatively small parties with as little as 15 per cent of the poll are guaranteed places in what is essentially an involuntary coalition. The coalition will consist of four parties including Sinn Fein which as you know is closely associated with the IRA.
These arrangements are deliberately inclusive, and the idea of proportionality originated with my own party. Our aim has been to offer paramilitaries a significant role in the new administration to construct an integrated Ulster as a widely acceptable alternative to a United Ireland.
The balanced nature of this governmental structure also includes a committee system to provide maximum democratic accountability. Each of our 10 new government departments will have a committee headed by someone from a different party than the department's minister to scrutinise legislation and performance.
You can easily see that these are complex and innovative administrative arrangements but I am confident that we can make them work for at the core of the involuntary coalition lies a voluntary coalition of the moderate nationalist and unionist parties who together negotiated the detail of this deal.
I am, though, minded of Benjamin Franklin's memorable reply to a friend in Europe who wrote to ask whether he was confident that the new American constitution would last the course. Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Everything appears to promise that it will last" and he then added the immortal words "but in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes."
To ensure that our Agreement will last we have gone the proverbial extra mile. This includes innovative working arrangements with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.
A North-South Ministerial Council will organise a significant degree of cross-border co-operation through six cross-border bodies established to run co-operative schemes in particular areas jointly with the Republic of Ireland. In addition a number of further areas were agreed upon for cross-border co-operation between existing institutions of government.
A British-Irish Council was also designed to bring together the newly devolved regional administrations in Scotland and Wales with ourselves in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Most controversially, an early release programme was agreed upon for those convicted of terrorist offences, including many guilty of the most heinous crimes, and a review was set up on the future of the police service in Northern Ireland-the Royal Ulster Constabulary-under the chairmanship of Chris Patten the last governor of Hong Kong.
As this process was intended to produce peace, all participants in the Agreement committed themselves to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, and to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. Disarmament, or the decommissioning of arms, is important. It is not a device to exclude or divert the process. It is the litmus test of the commitment to peace and democracy. The existence of private armies is simply incompatible with a commitment to peace. The insistence on retaining fully equipped private armies shows an intention to use force or the threat of force.
In any event as the Irish Prime Minister said recently: "The people did not vote for an armed peace."
Although all aspects of the Agreement have been delivered by the fully democratic parties, the parties I~ssociated with paramilitary organisations are not keeping their side of the bargain. To date no weapons whatsoever have been handed in by any of the main paramilitary organisations, Loyalist or Republican.
As a result, full implementation of the Agreement involving devolution of government powers to the new administration in Belfast on a fully inclusive basis is not possible because without movement there would not be sufficient confidence within the Unionist community.
Because we need to be confident that violence will be given up for good, we are standing firm on a basic principle of democracy, namely that parties cannot assume governmental powers over their fellow citizens when those parties have private armies with an undiminished capacity to threaten those with whom they disagree.
Despite these difficulties I remain optimistic. I believe that political violence is a thing of the past. The great majority of the people of Northern Ireland voted for the Belfast Agreement and opinion polls show that they remain solidly behind it. The former paramilitaries have nowhere else to go other than into exclusively democratic politics. Their campaign of violence has failed, a fact which their leadership shows every sign of fully understanding.
You can thus understand that I view a resolution of our current pause in progress as only a matter of time. I hope that we can move to setting up the new administration within days, although if instead it takes weeks it will be worth waiting to get the details right to form a solid platform for future progress.
No one I hope has any doubt about my own determination to move ahead quickly. There is much we wish to do to make Northern Ireland a better place for its citizens.
I have already mentioned my intention to introduce business-friendly policies. Northern Ireland has long been one of the fastest growing parts of the U.K. despite its past political problems. We intend that it will grow even faster in the new era of peace.
Modern economic success is underpinned by a firstclass education system. Much of ours, as I have said, is excellent but we will move to make all of it as good as the best. We have good universities, but we will do more to improve their links to business. Recent American investors like Seagate or the fast-growing BCO Technologies have worked closely with our university science departments to develop new products, and we plan to do more in this area, not only to persuade the world's leading companies to locate in Northern Ireland but also to ensure that their Northern Ireland operations prosper mightily.
Let me leave you with an upbeat message. The difficulties of the past have left the people of Northern Ireland with a deeply realistic view of the world. They are realistic about getting on with people to whom they were formerly bitterly opposed. They are also realistic about business success, and firms will find few places more eager to help them succeed.
The Northern Ireland conflict was once likened to an express train. Everyone understands that it had to stop before it reached the buffers, but they also understand that time is needed to slow it down enough to come to a complete halt. We are nearly there, and I believe the future is bright. We are now fully open for business and ready to extend a warm welcome to all who wish to join us.
Thank you for this invitation. I have greatly appreciated this valuable opportunity to talk to you and I look forward to meeting you again either in what I hope will be a regular series of visits to Canada or, even better from my point of view and I hope yours also, in Northern
Ireland where you can be assured of the warmest of welcomes.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by John Smith, Senior Manager, Global Private Banking, Royal Bank of Canada and President, British Canadian Chamber of Trade and Commerce.