Ambassador's Blog

An inspiring visit to Northern Ireland

February 2013

On 16 and 17 January I made my first official visit to Northern Ireland. The trip, on which I was accompanied by seven leading London-based members of the Japanese business community, including the President of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was organised by the British Government agency Invest Northern Ireland.

Following my arrival in Belfast on Wednesday 16th, I had a private meeting at Stormont Castle with First Minister Peter D. Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Then I called on Francie Molloy, Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, after which I met with a group of MLAs from the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee over lunch. During a stimulating discussion, all of us from London learned a great deal about the Northern Ireland economy and the role of Japanese businesses there.

First Minister Peter D. Robinson (R) and
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (L)

MLAs from the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee
The main event of the afternoon was a tour of the Titanic Quarter in Belfast Harbour, one of the world’s largest urban-waterfront regeneration schemes. Named after the tragically famous ship built in Belfast, the district is now a modern, vibrant centre of commerce, higher education and research.

In the evening we attended a dinner hosted by Minister of State for Northern Ireland Mike Penning at Hillsborough Castle. In my remarks, I referred to my previous stint in London from 1996 to 1999 and my time as Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland from 2005 to 2008. These experiences had enabled me to witness the transition from the Canary Wharf bombing to the successful signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and to see peace really take hold in the province. More recently, since becoming Ambassador to the United Kingdom, I had been able to observe the success of Her Majesty The Queen’s historic visit to the Republic, which in a sense completed the process of reconciliation. (In this regard, the recent disturbances can be seen as an aberration.) I also recounted how impressed I was by the signs of urban renewal and economic progress I had seen, and declared my confidence that the G8 Summit in Enniskillen would really put Northern Ireland on the map.

Minister of State for Northern Ireland Mike Penning at Hillsborough Castle.

The following morning began with a breakfast roundtable at Riddel Hall, Queen’s College Belfast, with representatives of Northern Ireland’s higher education sector. I spoke about Japan’s plans to internationalise higher education, including the goal of having 300,000 overseas students in the country by 2020. Among other topics, we discussed the burgeoning level of academic and research exchange between British and Japanese universities and, with particular relevance to Northern Ireland, the exchange programme between Toyama Technical College and South Eastern Regional College, which started in 2010 and has seen the movement of both academic staff and students in both directions. The programme has been widely acclaimed on both sides and is set to continue.

Afterwards I visited the five Japanese companies operating in Northern Ireland - Fujitsu, Ryobi Aluminium Casting (UK) Ltd, Terumo, Japan Tobacco and Canyon Europe Ltd. Covering a variety of sectors, these companies, which together employ more than 3,000 local people, are very happy with their highly educated workforces, the favourable infrastructure and the very welcoming attitude of the government agencies involved and of the communities in which they are based. What the visiting Japanese businessmen and I observed augurs well for future Japanese investment in the province.

Visiting Ryobi Aluminium Casting (UK), Limited
Unfortunately, I had to abandon my original plan to spend the night at Lough Erne, the location of the forthcoming G8 Summit, and return to London due to the need to deal with the terrorist atrocity in Algeria. However, I came back with a renewed sense of optimism about the future of Northern Ireland as well as confidence that Japanese businesses will continue to play an important role in the regional economy.


Keiichi Hayashi

Ambassadors Blog Archive