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Sinn Fein's O'Neill under pressure to withdraw Trump invitation to Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader is coming under pressure to rescind an invitation for US President Donald Trump to visit Northern Ireland.

The invite was co-signed by Michelle O'Neill's predecessor, Martin McGuinness, when he was Deputy First Minister following Mr Trump's election victory last November.

Mrs O'Neill said if she was in the Executive Office, she would not have issued the invitation as it would "not be appropriate".

She added: "Since taking office, President Trump has pursued policies on immigration and the banning of refugees that runs counter to international standards.

"I believe these are wrong and should not be imposed at Irish airports. The actions of President Trump since taking office mean that an invitation to visit would not now be appropriate.

"If I was in the Executive Office at this time, I wouldn't issue an invitation and I'm confident that Martin McGuinness wouldn't either."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it had been a joint invitation from then-First Minister Arlene Foster and Mr McGuinness to recognise "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," he added. "Strengthening and promoting further investment and trade with our strongest allies is more important today than ever."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mrs O'Neill should reverse what he described as a "tacit endorsement" of Mr Trump.

Mr Eastwood, who has already indicated he will boycott the annual St Patrick's Day events in Washington next month, explained: "It is astounding that the former First and Deputy First Ministers offered Trump a warm welcome, that they are eager to appease a man of his character and sell out their principles.

"Sinn Fein's new Northern leader should break from this tacit endorsement of Trump in return for the crumbs from his table and rescind this invitation."

The Alliance Party warned that the invite risked aligning Northern Ireland with the "appalling start" Mr Trump has made to his presidency.

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

"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."

But UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the former First and Deputy First Minister had "on this occasion got something right".

"Donald Trump has been democratically elected as President of the United States," he added.

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

However, the Belfast Islamic Centre said: "It is worrying that Trump's brand of nationalism is dependent on denigrating 'the other', leading to this kind of discrimination and dehumanisation, with the media often characterising Muslims solely as Islamic fundamentalists and potential terrorists."

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