Ten years ago I travelled to the U.S. as a participant of the Washington Ireland Program for Service & Leadership – a project that supports and inspires young leaders from diverse backgrounds across Ireland and Northern Ireland during a summer in Washington, D.C. It is a great honor to return to the capital a decade later for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly to promote and maintain the special connections between our people.
Our social, political and cultural histories are intertwined and the U.S. has played a pivotal role in the Northern Irish peace process and the establishment of a power-sharing Executive and Assembly of which I am proud to be a member.
This support has made a significant contribution towards the ongoing transformation of Northern Ireland. The dedication of the U.S. government and groups such as the Friends of Ireland Caucus and the International Fund for Ireland have motivated and inspired political representatives and citizens across Ireland that peace and progress were achievable.
We have seen significant change in Northern Ireland in the past decade and 2012 promises to be one of the most exciting years in our history. As we prepare to mark the centenary of Titanic we will launch the iconic Titanic Belfast signature project, in my own constituency of East Belfast, to commemorate the tragic loss and celebrate the inherent innovation, entrepreneurship and endeavor of our people. We must harness and support these qualities and abilities to overcome the challenges and take hold of opportunities for a new generation.
The challenges we continue to face may be less visible than in the past but are no less real. We continue to tackle the human and financial cost of division that has been fostered by years of violence and under investment. The challenge faced by this generation is to build a more shared society and deliver a prosperous future for all the citizens of Northern Ireland that will allow us to take a place on the international stage.
The challenge to build a united, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland will require a new leadership and I hope will be supported by an ongoing partnership and friendship with the U.S.
U.S. entrepreneurs increasingly regard Northern Ireland as a place and a people with the infrastructure, skills and spirit to do business. This type of investment and partnership in Northern Ireland can create real value for U.S. companies and promote mutual benefit for all our citizens.
We want the U.S. to know that Northern Ireland is open for business and welcoming to all. We hope the Discover Northern Ireland campaign ‘NI 2012: Our Time, Our Place’ will encourage you to join us for this exciting year to see all we have to offer for yourselves.
In addition to the Titanic Festival, we will also open the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre on the North Antrim Coast, the Belfast Metropolitan Arts Centre, host the arrival of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race in Derry, the 50th Belfast Festival at Queen’s University and showcase our world class golfers on the international stage at the Irish Open at Royal Portrush during this special year.
The creative drive behind this shared and better future for Northern Ireland is people like the young leaders inspired by projects like WIP.
The dedicated board, staff and supporters of this program have inspired and supported young people from across Ireland, with the life, language and leadership of people like Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King to the present day political, business and community leaders of Washington DC.
We have been equipped with a courage, ability and belief to serve as active citizens, political representatives, entrepreneurs, scientists, police men and women and community workers to build a new Northern Ireland.
We are committed to honoring this investment and it will be my privilege to announce the next class of Washington Ireland Program participants during my special visit to DC.
It is my pleasure to join the St Patrick’s Day celebrations to represent the commitment of the Northern Ireland Assembly to the longstanding relationships between Ireland and the U.S. and to a partnership approach to deliver peace and prosperity for all our citizens at this challenging time.
Lyttle is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is visiting Washington for the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.