NI Secretary to meet business and political leaders during US trip

Chris Heaton-Harris will meet US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III

The Northern Secretary is to meet political and business leaders during a five-day visit to the US.

Chris Heaton-Harris travelled to the US on Sunday for a number of meetings in Washington DC, Boston and New York.

He will hold talks with the State Department, National Security Council, members of congress, business and trade organisations.

He will also meet Joe Kennedy III, who was recently appointed as the US special envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs, and will discuss a trade and investment event due to be held in Northern Ireland.


Mr Heaton-Harris said he would use the visit to deepen the already strong links between Northern Ireland and the US and seek new investment opportunities. He will also discuss the current political crisis and plans to mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement.

It is expected he will hear strong criticism of the UK’s government’s controversial legislation to address the legacy of the Troubles. The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which is due to return to the House of Lords this week, will end criminal and civil cases and inquests and offer a conditional amnesty to perpetrators.

On Friday, 27 members of the US Congress wrote to the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to express their “grave concern” about Britain’s “dangerous” proposals which they said “denies justice, suppresses the will of the people of Northern Ireland, and conceals the truth of the past.”

The Northern Secretary is also expected to face questions about the Northern Ireland protocol amid increasing optimism that a deal can be reached in the negotiations between the UK and EU.

Northern Ireland has been without an Assembly or Executive since the May elections, when the DUP refused to re-enter the power-sharing institutions – which were set up as a result of the Belfast Agreement – as part of its protest against the protocol.

There has been speculation that US president Joe Biden could visit Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the agreement in April, but this would be contingent on the restoration of the North’s political institutions.

Last year, the White House warned that undoing elements of the protocol would not create a “conducive environment” for US-UK trade talks, while Mr Biden has spoken previously of the need to preserve peace in Northern Ireland and ensure no hardening of the Border as a result of Brexit or the protocol.

Meanwhile, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern will tell a Westminster committee today [Monday] the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement should mark the start of a “new dawn”.

Mr Ahern is due to give evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the first witness to do so as part of the scrutiny committee’s investigation into the effectiveness of the institutions of the agreement.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times