- in Technology
The White House’s special envoy to Northern Ireland has praised the NI Executive’s handling of Covid-19.
Mick Mulvaney said politicians should use that experience to help it through its current tensions.
The executive has been fractured in a row over Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill’s attendance at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey on Tuesday.
Mr Mulvaney, a former White House chief of staff, was speaking to BBC News NI’s Sunday Politics programme.
“It’s a good opportunity for everybody to realise things went extraordinarily well during the Covid crisis,” he said.
“The executive worked very well together and maybe they use the experience of fighting the common enemy of Covid to help get them through this situation.”
Mr Mulvaney said he had no plans to speak to the first or deputy first ministers about the crisis, but would be happy to do so.
“I don’t know if I can be of any help, I’ll try not to be of any hindrance,” he said.
“To the extent if there’s anything I can do, I’d be happy to do that.”
He said his message to the executive is that it has proven it can deal with a crisis.
“We’re very excited here in the US about the success Northern Ireland has had in dealing with Covid-19, (with) the lowest infection and the lowest death rates in the UK.
“So as we come out of coronavirus – as we hopefully transition now to something back towards normal and we start to focus on economic development – how do you use that shared experience of the last few months to funnel that positive energy into economic redevelopment?”
The special envoy acknowledged the deaths that have occurred and said he did not want to minimise the impact coronavirus has had on individual families.
“But face it, Northern Ireland has done a really, really, good job in large part because the devolved government has been able to work so well together,” he added.
“So how do we build on that? How do we turn that shared interest in protecting the health of the nation into a shared vision of the economic development of the nation?”
Mr Mulvaney was appointed as special envoy to Northern Ireland in March, after being replaced as White House chief of staff.
He told Sunday Politics the job was something he had been interested in for a long time.
“It’s actually the job I wanted way back when I was the budget director. I knew it was extraordinarily important.
“I knew it was something we hadn’t filled for a couple of years of this administration.
“It was something I’d been interested in since I came to the US Congress in 2011.”
Mr Mulvaney explained how he had a conversation with the president about the job, but Donald Trump asked him to be his chief of staff for six months first.
“It lasted for fourteen months and when it came time to change chief of staff, he came back and asked if I was still interested in the special envoy position and I said I absolutely was.”
Mr Mulvaney said President Trump is interested in what is going on in Northern Ireland and he was impressed with his knowledge of the history here.
“The president called me just yesterday to talk about a couple of things and we got the chance to talk about Northern Ireland.
“To have a special envoy, who has that sort of relationship with the president probably hasn’t existed.
“I don’t want to minimise the work my predecessors have done, but I think you have to go back to George Mitchell to have that tight relationship between a special envoy and the president of the United States.
“So hopefully it will bode well for whatever work I’m able to do when I get there.”
Technology ‘I’m optimistic about NI’
Mr Mulvaney said he is very excited about what he can do to help the Northern Ireland economy.
“I’ve had a chance to talk to Invest NI and we’ve had a long conversation about what Northern Ireland thinks Northern Ireland does well and what they think they do better than everybody else.
“One of the first things that came back to me was tech. Not just technology but also financial technology.
“This is something I’ve been heavily involved in for the last ten years.
“So when I meet folks and they ask me about how things are going in NI, I tell them how optimistic I am because of how they’ve handled Covid.”
Mr Mulvaney said he hopes to visit Northern Ireland and get the chance to speak to politicians and businesses face-to-face by the end of the month.
You can catch up on the full interview with Mick Mulvaney on Sunday Politics on the BBC iPlayer, or on our website here.
You can also listen to a longer version on the Red Lines podcast here.