Making a special bond even stronger

This op-ed by Ambassador Johnson was posted in the Monday, 16 October 2017 online edition of the Irish News.

Official portrait of Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson
Official portrait of Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson

AMB JOHNSON:  Americans will always have a special bond with the people of Northern Ireland.

That is only natural. We have a long shared history. It was men and women from Northern Ireland who laid the very foundations of my country. Today millions of Americans proudly trace their family trees back to this region.

Many of our most famous Presidents could do the same. Andrew Jackson’s parents lived in Boneybefore in Carrickfergus. Ulysses S. Grant’s family came from near Ballygawley in County Tyrone. Woodrow Wilson’s family was from just outside Strabane in West Tyrone.

These are the ties of kinship which have always given us a close connection. Yet the bond between us goes deeper than that – strengthened by each passing chapter of history.

In World War II, for example, General Eisenhower said that without concentrating our forces here in Northern Ireland we simply could not have begun the invasion of Europe that led to Allied victory. But to the 300,000 US servicemen who came here, it wasn’t just a military base.  It was the place they were welcomed into people’s homes and hearts.

Six people smiling at camera
Ambassador Johnson with leaders from US-based companies in Northern Ireland

We became even closer during the dark days of the Troubles. We were with you as you made that difficult and courageous journey towards reconciliation. When the Good Friday Agreement was finally reached, we shared your hopes for a more peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Northern Ireland.

That was almost twenty years ago and it is such a privilege for me to come here today and see the remarkable progress you have achieved.  This is now clearly a great place to live and visit – and word is spreading.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are coming here on vacation. Some are drawn by the lure of the home country, some by the legendary hospitality, and still others by the glorious countryside they have grown to love courtesy of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Tourists aren’t the only ones attracted here. You are also one of the UK’s top destinations for international investors – particularly from the United States, which is your biggest source of foreign investment.

American companies aren’t just investing here, they’re setting up shop. There are now over 175 American companies which have opened up here in Northern Ireland – creating about 23,000 jobs for local people.

We are also close trading partners. In fact, America is one of your best customers. That’s not to say commercial disputes won’t arise from time to time – the ongoing case brought by Boeing against Bombardier is an example of that. But our trading relationship is broad, deep and long-standing – strong now, it will get even stronger long term.

Because this is an economic partnership that benefits us all. Trade and investment is important for a vibrant and prosperous Northern Ireland. It is also extremely important to have a strong voice from Stormont representing your interests at this critical juncture in the UK’s future.

This is something I’ll be discussing with political leaders during my visit. I’ll also be meeting businesses and other local leaders. With everyone, I’ll be exploring what more we can do together to make our countries both safer and more prosperous.

Together, we have an opportunity to write the next chapter in our history and make that special bond between us even stronger. Throughout my time as Ambassador, I’ll be doing everything I can to see that happen.