Clinton outlines plan to boost Northern Ireland economy

Bill Clinton visits Londonderry

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The former US President Bill Clinton has outlined his ideas for building economic prosperity in Northern Ireland during a visit to Londonderry.

Mr Clinton said new jobs could be created through greater investment in renewable energy and rebranding the local fishing industry.

He said Northern Ireland must aim to double its annual tourist figures.

He added that working on the NI peace process had been one of the "great honours" of his life.

The former president made his speech at the University of Ulster's Magee campus in the city, ahead of next month's Washington summit on the Northern Ireland economy.

Start Quote

You would be amazed at how many people from around the world would come here and help if you just asked.”

End Quote Bill Clinton Former US president

The US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly, introduced Mr Clinton to the specially invited audience, telling them that no other world leader in history had done more to help Northern Ireland.

Mr Clinton began by contrasting his low-key arrival in Derry earlier on Wednesday with the reception he had enjoyed from the city in 1995.

Back then, 35,000 people lined the streets but now he said "three or four people waved hello".

But he insisted that he was pleased - hailing it as a sign of progress.

"People shouldn't be so desperate for a normal life that they wait for some politician to ride to the rescue," he said.

'Staggered'

He explained that he had been asked to make an speech on building economic prosperity in Northern Ireland because, in his former role, he had been responsible for the American economy "and in a larger sense the economy of the world".

He told his audience that the Northern Ireland tourist industry must capitalise on Derry's UK City of Culture 2013 title.

He said he was "constantly staggered" by the number of people he met who had travelled widely and yet knew "nothing" about Northern Ireland.

He said as a tourist destination it was "beautiful, affordable, historically and culturally interesting and has some of the best golf course on earth".

Mr Clinton said the UK City of Culture title would have an "echo effect beyond the confines of Derry" and said it was a opportunity to brand not only the city but the whole country as a tourist destination.

He insisted local industries must prepare for an increase in visitors, many with "modest incomes", who would want a "meaningful" souvenir of their trip.

He said loans should be made available for small and medium-sized arts and crafts businesses to cater for the cultural tourist market.

'Shining light'

Mr Clinton suggested that funds could be secured from international non-governmental groups where bank funding was not available.

"There are a lot of non-governmental groups that really care about what happens in Northern Ireland.

"They really want you to make it. They want every day to be able to hold you up as a shining light to all these places where people are still fighting.

"You would be amazed at how many people from around the world would come here and help if you just asked," he said.

He said that although Northern Ireland continued to be seen as good example of successful conflict resolution, the international community was not widely aware of Northern Ireland's economic problems.

"You know, it's amazing how we all get out of the news if we're not causing trouble".

Mr Clinton estimated that Northern Ireland could create up to 2,500 jobs and save "a tonne of money" by investing in wind energy.

He also suggested that the Northern Ireland fishing industry should aim to rebrand itself as an internationally renowned source of organic seafood.

On a lighter note, he observed that peace in Ireland had come about because its political leaders "represented people who couldn't get away from each other".

"They could fight from now until the end of time, but they couldn't get a divorce - there wasn't enough land," he joked.

The Washington summit, which aims to encourage American business leaders to invest in Northern Ireland, will be hosted by his wife, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on 19 October.

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