Ex-IRA militant Martin McGuinness to visit Hong Kong as part of trade mission

Former IRA leader Martin McGuinness part of group promoting Northern Ireland-China ties

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 4:13am

A high-level delegation of Northern Irish politicians and businesspeople will arrive in Hong Kong this month on a trade promotion visit that will also take in Shanghai.

The party includes Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister of the British-run province, and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson.

The delegation is due to arrive on November 16.

The two ministers were invited to China after they hosted Politburo member Liu Yandong in Belfast in April during the first stop of her state visit to Britain.

Liu is China's most senior female politician.

McGuinness, 62, a one-time leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), played a major role in a peace deal that ended a four-decade campaign for Northern Ireland to break away from British rule.

More than 3,700 died in what were known as The Troubles.

The IRA formally abandoned its campaign to force Northern Ireland out of Britain and disarmed in 2005.

McGuinness was appointed deputy first minister in 2007. Now a statesman, he shook the hand of Queen Elizabeth in Belfast in June in a highly symbolic gesture.

The announcement of the trip follows on the heels of the murder of a Northern Irish prison officer by dissident republicans on Thursday.

David Black, 52, was shot dead as he drove to work at Maghaberry Prison, where militant nationalists had been protesting against living conditions. Police have arrested three men, including an Irish nationalist acquitted in January of the deaths of two British soldiers.

McGuinness described the killing as "evil and immoral".

Liu invited the ministers for a visit to strengthen relations and further develop links in trade, university education, agriculture, sport and tourism.

The ministers will lead a business mission comprising representatives of companies, universities and agricultural sciences organisations.

Both plan to return to China early next year for government meetings in Beijing, with the start of the Communist Party's 18th congress on Thursday limiting their access to senior officials.

In Hong Kong, the pair will hold a reception on November 16 at the Conrad Hotel in Pacific Place, Admiralty, for guests with a connection to Northern Ireland. The event is being organised by Northern Ireland Connections.

"The ministers will visit Hong Kong to connect with our diaspora and promote trade and tourism opportunities," an NIC spokesman said.

In Shanghai, the ministers will review the work of university science laboratories and host a business reception for Chinese buyers attending the Food & Hotel China exhibition. Diplomatic and international relations meetings will also take place.

Additional reporting by Associated Press