Tens of millions of dollars’ worth of American investment in Northern Ireland has failed to materialise, years after being announced.
It has been revealed that a $30m pot of cash which was earmarked for the Province has not injected a cent since it was unveiled in March 2009 by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
The $30m was to be drawn from New York State workers’ pension money, channelled through something called the Emerging Europe Fund.
Mr McGuinness, who was visiting New York with First Minister Peter Robinson at the time in 2009, said then that he hoped it would be “merely the start of even bigger and better things to come”.
But four-and-a-half years on it has yet to make any investments in Northern Ireland – although the fund itself does remain live.
The news comes as Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson were on another trip to the USA to drum up investment, and just weeks after a major conference which aimed to show off the Province to international investors.
What is more, it is not the first time that a major pledge of US investment has been boldly announced, and has then gone on to yield no visible results (see below right).
The information emerged after the News Letter got in touch with the office of the New York State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, responsible for overseeing the state’s finances, to learn what if anything the fund had done for Northern Ireland.
Eric Sumberg, speaking on his behalf, said: “While the fund has not yet made investments in Northern Ireland, we have reviewed several opportunities and continue to engage with our investment manager, 57 Stars, as we seek suitable opportunities for investment. The fund is a long-term investor and Comptroller DiNapoli remains committed to investing in Northern Ireland.”
An approach was also made to 57 Stars, the body which directly manages the Emerging Europe fund.
It was asked why nothing had been invested into Ulster, and what kind of investment is actually envisaged – for example, whether it means buying shares in Ulster firms, buying land, or anything else.
Its vice-president of investor relations, Jennifer Johnson, said: “57 Stars as a firm is a private equity fund of funds meaning the structure of our investments in general are typically (but not always) an investment in another private equity fund, secondary or a co-investment.
“I would like to be more helpful, however our confidentiality obligations to our investors as well as the downstream investee funds in 57 Stars Emerging Europe preclude discussion with the public.”
When contacted over the matter, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) said many investments in the Province from major American multinationals did “underline Northern Ireland’s capability to attract high quality US businesses”.
It said: “The US is the number one source of foreign direct investment into NI, with 165 US-owned businesses currently operating in Northern Ireland and employing over 18,000 employees.”
After months of trying to get a response from OFMDFM, it did issue a statement yesterday.
The office was asked if the latest trip to the US included meetings over the investment fund.
It said: “The First Minister and Deputy First Minister’s itinerary for their visit to Boston and Chicago does not include meetings about the pension fund initiative.”
The statement added: “The circumstances surrounding the New York State and City Pension Funds is entirely a matter for the Comptrollers of the State and the City of New York and any decision about proceeding with investments was entirely a matter for the stakeholders involved.”