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Donald Trump visit invitation receives lukewarm reception from Northern Ireland parties

UUP says links should be developed as Amnesty promises protest to 'give welcome he deserves'

By Jonathan Bell

Should President Donald Trump take up an invitation to visit Northern Ireland, it should be used as an opportunity to "speak truth to power," the Alliance party has said.

It comes following revelations that the then First and deputy First Ministers congratulated Donald Trump on winning the presidential election in a letter sent mere hours after the official result was known last November.

They assured Mr Trump a "warm welcome" if he were to visit Northern Ireland.

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness sent their "personal congratulations" to Mr Trump speaking of the strong historical ties Northern Ireland has with America and indeed with the Oval Office.

They also talked of the current economical ties and how American business investment was "mutually beneficial for both your great country and our small but dynamic region".

"We wish you every success in your new role and we extend an invitation to visit Northern Ireland. You can be assured of a warm welcome,” they wrote before signing off with their best wishes.

No response has been received from the White House to the offer.

More: Donald Trump 'assured of warm Northern Ireland welcome' in invitation from Foster and McGuinness

A planned State Visit to the UK by President Trump has sparked controversy. More than one million people have signed a petition calling for the invitation from the Queen to be withdrawn.

However, a counter petition backing the visit has been signed by more than 100,000 people.

'Foster and McGuinness got something right'

News of the invite emerged hours before a planned protest at the US consulate in Belfast to voice opposition against Mr Trump's controversial executive order that has temporarily barred citizens from seven mainly Muslim countries entering the US.

Amnesty International promised to mobilise protests if the president comes to Northern Ireland to "give him the welcome he deserves".

“Should any visit go ahead, we would call on Northern Ireland’s political leaders to ensure that respect for human rights are top of the agenda. Meanwhile we must hear them speaking out clearly now to condemn policies which flout the most basic principles of human rights,” said Amnesty's Patrick Corrigan.

Political parties were split on welcoming the billionaire property tycoon to these shores.

Mandate

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "Donald Trump has been democratically elected as President of the United States.

"Whether people like it or not, we must recognise his mandate as leader of the wealthiest nation in the world.

"We should engage on a continuing basis and seek to build on our historic links for the mutual benefit, both economic and cultural, of all our people. We will have our differences and where they occur we should not be afraid to raise them.

"On this occasion Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness got something right in trying to get the leader of the wealthiest nation in the world to visit Northern Ireland.

"As President Trump has a stated aim of repatriating jobs back to the United States, it is important he understands the potentially negative impact that would have on Northern Ireland."

'One of our strongest allies'

DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds MP said: "The invitation to Donald Trump was a joint invitation from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to visit Northern Ireland given the strong economic and political links between the United States and Northern Ireland.

"It would follow previous successful visits by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. Strengthening and promoting further investment and trade with our strongest allies is more important today than ever."

Alliance said the invite risked aligning Northern Ireland with the "appalling start to his presidency."

"If the former First Minister and deputy First Minister chose to invite Donald Trump, that is a matter for them," said Stewart Dickson.

"However, to extend such an offer is at best premature and at worst risks aligning us with the appalling start to his presidency.

“If any such visit does take place, it should not be an exercise in toadying and sycophancy but rather used to speak truth to power about the US international obligations on refugees and human rights, among others."

'Throwback to sectarian division'

The SDLP's Colum Eastwood, who has said he would not meet the president even before his election success, said it was astonishing Mr Trump was offered a warm welcome.

He said: "Our values are in distinct opposition to those displayed by Donald Trump. His methods of designed discrimination on the basis of religion are a throwback to sectarian division that should be opposed at every opportunity.

However, the TUV's Samuel Morrison said Mr Trump would receive a warm welcome and the Northern Ireland political class would do well to heed his approach to public office.

“If the US President were to visit Northern Ireland I have no doubt that he would receive a warm welcome," he said.

“The current mess in which our province finds itself shows that we need President Trump’s “drain the swamp” approach when it comes to politics too.

"With a government which does not and cannot work and parties mired in corruption the circumstances which swept Donald Trump to power in the US are very much in evidence here too.”

'Waste of paper'

Green leader Steven Agnew said the invitation was a "waste of paper".

"It's disturbing to read the words today in the context of the dark clouds of President Trump's first weeks in office," he said.

"The now defunct Executive Office tripped over itself to flatter the new administration, taking a never mind approach to the hateful, racist and misogynistic rhetoric of President Trump."

People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll said the invitation was "abhorrent" saying it had "legitimised everything Trump represents".

"Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the US, and his policy of building a wall along the border of Mexico, show irrefutably that this man is no friend of democracy," he said.

"Anyone with an ounce of decency has a duty to oppose this President not wine and dine him. We call on other parties in the Assembly to show some backbone, and take a principled stand against Trump and his bigotry."

Sinn Fein has been contacted for comment.

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