By Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) – A deal to restore political power sharing in Northern Ireland is possible in the coming weeks, thanks in part to the prospect of significant investment in the region, the U.S. ambassador to London said on Tuesday.
Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government for more than 18 months after Britain’s departure from the European Union destabilised the delicate politics in the province, which shares a land border with EU member Ireland.
The United States, which helped to negotiate a 1998 peace deal that largely ended 30 years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland, has promised corporate investment from U.S. businesses if the power-sharing agreement can return.
“It’s important to watch the next six weeks,” Ambassador Jane Hartley told Reuters. “We’re in a timeframe where stuff could happen.”
Britain agreed new trading terms with the EU earlier this year, giving businesses in Northern Ireland access to both European and British markets. But an ongoing need for checks on some goods moving between the province and Britain has angered the party with the closest ties to Britain.
A U.S. business delegation dispatched to Northern Ireland by President Joe Biden last week talked up the bespoke post-Brexit arrangements, but Hartley said companies needed to see political stability before they could invest.
“I’ve said, you know, this is a business delegation, but you can have much, much, much more. Because if you talk to large companies, they do care about political stability, and they do care about having a government.”
Hartley said the Northern Irish parties did understand that, after she met the different leaders recently. “I think there is communication going on. I think the UK government is supporting that and promoting that,” she said.
The British minister for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, told Reuters earlier this month that he was optimistic a formula could be found to persuade the largest pro-British party to return to government.
(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Jonathan Oatis)