Upper Bann Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has returned from the US following her four-week participation in the International Visitor Leadership Programme, as a guest of the US State Department.
The Programme has been attended by over three hundred Prime Ministers and Presidents as well as a host of academics and figures from the world of media and public service.
Mrs Dobson said: “I was delighted to receive the call from the US Consulate in Belfast that I had been selected to attend as the only British political representative on this year’s programme.
“We began in Washington DC attending briefings on Capitol Hill to discuss the structure of US Government as well as its international links with Northern Ireland.
“I discussed the importance of developing new business links between the United States and Northern Ireland, encouraging them to visit us and invest in our local economy.”
The next stop was New York and the site of the World Trade Centre. “Nothing quite prepares you to see the wall of faces and the images of the victims frozen in time. It was extremely moving and an experience I will never forget.”
On the way to the West Coast California, the group stopped off in Mississippi to learn about the struggle for Civil Rights and spoke to some the 1,300 pupils at Jim Hill High School. The principal said that 90 per cent of his pupils live below the poverty and they were keen to learn about Northern Ireland schoolchildren.
In California Mrs Dobson’s group was briefed in San Diego on the impact of immigration and how this affects their local economy and everyday life. “The Mexican a massive expanse, yet despite the thousands of people who pass over every day they are able to fully protect the US from any agricultural diseases– we could learn a lot from this. “
Said Mrs Dobson. “Through the programme I have made valuable contacts in the US, as well as with the others taking part in the programme from across Europe and have encouraged them all to come and visit Northern Ireland.”