BELFAST (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron urged business on Friday to look beyond Northern Ireland’s troubled past and sporadic outbreaks of violence by investing there.
The British province of 1.8 million people has been more settled since a 1998 peace deal ended decades of sectarian strife but remains divided, and rioting has broken out repeatedly in Belfast this year.
Peace has brought more investment in areas such as technology, film-making and tourism thanks to relatively low labor costs, though multinationals prefer Ireland, where corporation tax is 12.5 percent, versus 23 percent in the north.
But Northern Ireland still has the United Kingdom’s lowest labor productivity and is heavily dependent on the state sector.
“Put your money in Northern Ireland and be part of this incredible success story, because investing in Northern Ireland makes good business sense,” Cameron told some 150 chief executives from countries including the United States, China and Japan.
Hosting the G8 summit of world leaders this year with little trouble showed Northern Ireland was moving beyond a deadly rift between “unionists” supporting union with Britain and “nationalists” seeking unification with the Republic of Ireland, Cameron said.
Northern Ireland was second only to London as the top destination for inward foreign investment in the country, Cameron told the conference, saying it had over 800 foreign investors but giving no comparisons.
In the past week close to 1,400 jobs have been announced by foreign investors, with Canadian plane and train maker Bombardier Inc unveiling 250 jobs in Belfast on Friday.
U.S. insurer Allstate has expanded rapidly in the province due to a ready supply of graduates and saved $1 billion in 15 years thanks to its presence there, Executive Vice President Suren Gupta said without saying how this was done.
Reporting by Ian Graham; editing by Sam Cage and Stephen Nisbet