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SDLP's Eastwood and McDonnell at odds over Trump White House visit

By Rebecca Black

Published 11/11/2016

Colum Eastwood
Colum Eastwood
Alasdair McDonnell

Former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has said he would meet US President-elect Donald Trump - in stark contrast to the man who succeeded him.

Current leader Colum Eastwood claimed he will refuse to attend the White House if invited.

Party leaders traditionally receive an invitation each year to the St Patrick's Day celebrations.

Last month Mr Eastwood said: "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."

However, Mr McDonnell said America has decided and he would meet Mr Trump if asked.

"It is not for me to tell them (the US electorate) who they should vote for," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "I would prefer the other candidate but they have decided on Trump. We have to live with that.

"Every American president back to Reagan and beyond has been a very good friend to Ireland. Hillary Clinton was a very special friend, I would hope that Donald Trump would not turn a blind eye to us.

"If I am invited to meet the American president of course I will, that is what you are elected for, I am obliged to. As South Belfast MP I have met a lot of people with whom I don't agree."

When asked what he thought of Mr Eastwood's planned snub, Mr McDonnell said: "I am not getting into that. Colum is entitled to make his own decision.

"I think a lot of people are distressed but we have to live with the hand we are dealt with. If Obama can meet him, then the rest of us can."

When asked whether Mr Eastwood would meet Mr Trump if he came to Northern Ireland, an SDLP spokesperson said a decision would be taken on it at the time. "Colum is not disengaging with the US, he is disengaging with Trump as an individual," the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a high-profile SDLP councillor said he would refuse to meet Mr Trump even if he came to Belfast to announce investment.

Belfast councillor Brian Heading said: "Mr Trump's election is a miscarriage of democracy.

"Most of us (in the SDLP) who followed the US Presidential campaign would have the same view as me."

Mr Heading said he feels very disappointed by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness issuing a statement congratulating Trump on his election.

"Why Martin felt the need to congratulate him is for only him to know," he added.

"If the reason was potential investment, Trump is on record saying he wants to bring more jobs back to America.

"If the SDLP stands alone in this position, then so be it, we have stood alone before."

Mr Eastwood is standing by a pledge he made before Trump's election, insisting that he would refuse to attend the St Patrick's Day event at the White House if he was invited.

"I choose to stand by a very different set of values than those displayed by this man," he said.

Mr McGuinness described Mr Eastwood's comments as "naive" and said they will not go down well with Irish American business.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson queried why Mr Eastwood was comfortable carrying the coffin of a former paramilitary - Seamus 'Chang' Coyle - in 2012 but baulked at meeting the newly-elected US President.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed he has accepted an invitation to attend next year's St Patrick's Day bash at the White House - despite previously criticising Mr Trump.

The Executive Office last night did not confirm whether the First and Deputy First Ministers have been invited to the White House for St Patrick's Day. Both attended the event in earlier this year.

During a Westminster debate in January, DUP MP Gavin Robinson blasted Trump as a "ridiculous xenophobe".

A DUP spokesperson said: "We congratulate Donald Trump on his successful Presidential election. The DUP will work to strengthen the economic and political relationships between Northern Ireland and the United States.

"There are leaders in Northern Ireland, however, who apparently will now boycott the White House.

"It only remains to be seen whether anyone within the US administration will actually notice," the spokesperson added.

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