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Belfast Lord Mayor gains from political deadlock with invite to White House

By David Young

Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston will represent Northern Ireland in Washington next week when he attends the traditional St Patrick's Day celebration at the White House.

The news broke when the Belfast Lord Mayor posted a photo of his invitation from President Trump on his Facebook page last night.

Traditionally, the First and Deputy First Minister are invited to represent the province, but since those posts are currently vacant, the honour falls to the First Citizen of Northern Ireland's capital city.

DUP Alderman Brian Kingston said last night that he is delighted to be representing Belfast at a number of events planned in the US capital over the next three days.

"We greatly value our connection with the USA and I see that on a weekly basis with the many American visitors who come to meet me here at City Hall," the Lord Mayor said. "Whether they be business contacts, conference delegates, students or tourists, the relationship between our city and the United States is key.

"This opportunity to engage with influencers is one I fully intend to make the best of for the benefit of Belfast and Northern Ireland," he said.

It is understood Alderman Kingston is to be joined by council leaders from around Northern Ireland on the high-profile trip next week.

Several senior political figures - including Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams - are also expected to travel to the US for the annual celebrations next week.

But most Northern Ireland party leaders and their negotiating teams intend to stay focussed on the Stormont negotiations, which finished their first week last night.

In October last year, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party would boycott White House functions if Donald Trump were to be elected US President. Mr Eastwood branded Mr Trump's controversial comments on women, immigrants and minority communities as "absolutely grotesque".

He added: "As leader of the SDLP and the progressive nationalist tradition on this island, I will not give any support to such an administration, founded on bigotry, by attending the White House under a Trump presidency."

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