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Northern Ireland parties left off White House's guest list don't seem too bothered

By Rachel Martin

This year's political pilgrimage from Northern Ireland to the White House for the annual celebration of St Patrick will be one of the smallest in years.

Most Stormont parties have not received a presidential invite from Donald Trump this year - and no nationalist or republican from Northern Ireland is expected to meet with the outspoken leader.

The select few heading to America include the DUP MP Ian Paisley and Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston, the UUP's Jeffrey Dudgeon and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams.

They are due to attend a reception at Capitol Hill hosted by Mr Trump on Thursday.

But there's no seat on the plane for anyone from the SDLP, Alliance Party, Green Party, the TUV or People Before Profit.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has already said he will not attend, as the talks to restore Stormont step up a gear.

While Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and the party's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald will attend the White House event, Mr Adams said there are no plans for him to meet President Trump - although the two men shook hands at a Sinn Fein fundraiser in New York in 1995.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has already announced he would not meet Mr Trump.

He said: "The story of this island and of the Irish people is one of travel and traversing the world, integrating and influencing communities across the globe. 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.

"That's why I took the decision not to meet with him following his election in November. I recognise that responsibility of office demands that some civic leaders meet President Trump. But those of us who can should take a stand for our common values of diversity, equality and respect for all people and traditions."

Also missing from the guest list is the Green Party. But Northern Ireland leader Steven Agnew said his focus was on the talks now, regardless of what was going on Stateside.

He said: "I look at an American visit in terms of the priority for Northern Ireland at present.

"The focus of all our newly elected MLAs should be on getting our institutions up and running and agreeing a budget, so we can protect jobs and curb spiralling hospital waiting lists.

"In principle, I oppose Donald Trump's overtly racist and misogynist rhetoric and policies," Mr Agnew added.

"However, I believe in maintaining dialogue across the political spectrum. Donald Trump is a democratically elected politician, so I would consider meeting him if an invite came through.

"But, let's get the Assembly and Executive up and running as the main priority."

A TUV spokesman said party leader Jim Allister would have "no issue" meeting the new US president - but no one had been invited.

An Alliance spokeswoman said she was not aware of anyone from the party being invited, adding the Assembly negotiations were the party's priority.

A spokeswoman for People Before Profit said no one from the party would "join in with the frivolities of shamrock exchanges" based on Mr Trump's actions since his inauguration.

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