Prominent New York lawyer bowled over by Belfast
John Connorton is part of a US business mission told of the possibilties of investment
Standing in a city where recent history featured too many coffins , John Connorton readily admits that if he himself had not experienced the close proximity of nine coffins as a young naval officer in 1969 life might have turned out very differently for him.
Fast-forward his personal history and you will discover that Connorton today is a prominent New York lawyer, a well-established power player who counts decision makers, well-placed politicians and several clients with billions of dollars at their disposal as friends. Right now he is visiting the Titanic Quarter in east Belfast with the rest of a 20-strong business mission from the United States who are in the city for a couple of days at the invitation of Belfast Lord Mayor Cllr Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.
Connorton, a celebrated Irish-American – his grandparents hail from Kerry, Cork, Roscommon and Mayo – is genuinely impressed with what’s happening in Belfast and is particularly taken with Titanic Quarter.
He is no stranger to the city, he has been involved with the “affairs of Northern Ireland” for nearly 30 years in one shape or another.
It was a meeting with John Hume over a lunch in New York back in 1988, long before ceasefires were ever on the horizon, that kick-started Connorton’s “journey” as he puts it with the North. He identified with Hume’s philosophy that non-violence was the only route to peace.
Connorton had taken part in the now historic march in Washington with Martin Luther King in 1963 but it was his experiences as a young naval officer flying home from DaNang in Vietnam that really shaped his philosophy in life.
He recounts how he shared that particular journey home on an Air Force cargo plane with nine coffins. “There were nine of us alive on that plane and nine of us dead – that had a transformational effect on me – I thought then there has to be a better way.
“Because of my family heritage I got involved with people who wanted to take the gun out of politics, to help bring Northern Ireland politicians from both communities and traditions together to create the opportunities for economic development and investment that would support a social programme to create a new future,” Connorton says.
Connorton feels that since he was last in Belfast two years ago there is a “lot of more energy around the place”.
“Belfast is dealing with its past but I see a city that is more optimistic, that is looking to its future. Just standing here in the Titanic Quarter, seeing the enormity of the place is proof of that. I see real possibilities for investment here and I’d personally strongly recommend that any organisation that is considering a new European location should consider Belfast as a real possibility – I couldn’t have said that 20 years ago,” he adds.
To get someone of his calibre putting his reputation on the line for Belfast is a powerful endorsement. As a partner in the New York city law firm Hawkins, Delafield & Wood he is well versed in handling major investment banks and has been heavily involved in the financing for some of the largest capital infrastructure projects in the US worth tens of billions of dollars.“I see the same spirit in Belfast that we have in Manhattan, I see the same commitment to Belfast that we have in New York,” he says.