I am delighted to welcome President Santos of Colombia to Northern Ireland today.
As Secretary of State, I know that there are few greater responsibilities in government than taking forward the efforts of many people over decades to build a peaceful, stable and prosperous country.
I know that President Santos is equally dedicated to the same goal. His recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the five-decade civil war in Colombia is testimony to both his leadership and his commitment to a peaceful society.
President Santos visits a Northern Ireland that has moved on from the dark days of the troubles to a more peaceful future based on democracy and consent. We are now enjoying the longest period of unbroken devolved government since the 1960s. There are 64,000 more people in work than in 2010 and Northern Ireland is one of the best performing parts of the UK for attracting inward investment.
Around 900 international companies have invested here, and with our highly-educated young people and competitive operating environment, we know that more will follow as we build a stronger Northern Ireland that works for everyone.
Northern Ireland highly values its international partnerships, including the one we, and the whole of the UK, enjoy with Colombia. Belfast and Bogota may be separated by more than 5,000 miles but we share a common desire to see our people flourish in the prosperity that peace brings. I see many parallels between the recent experiences of our two countries, and that is why building long-lasting links between us is so important. This visit by President Santos is an opportunity to agree a new strategic partnership between Northern Ireland and Colombia, which will see experts in education and policing share our experience of reform in those areas.
Northern Ireland has come a very long way over recent years, though we know the job is not finished. It is my hope that this visit – and the partnerships which it heralds – will demonstrate the commitment of the UK government to support Colombia in securing a final and long-lasting peace agreement.
And I hope that President Santos will find his visit to Belfast valuable in deepening a friendship between our two countries that stems from a shared experience of division and violence, and a shared vision of a peaceful, prosperous and shared future.
• James Brokenshire MP is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland