Belfast Telegraph

Foster and O'Neill to miss White House festivities celebrating St Patrick's Day

By Rebecca Black

Arlene Foster will not be travelling to the United States this week for a key White House St Patrick's Day event, the DUP confirmed last night.

Instead, the DUP leader has asked her deputy Nigel Dodds to attend what the party termed as a "number of events" in Washington DC, including the Speaker's Lunch in the White House.

Sinn Fein is expected to be represented by its former president Gerry Adams after it was reported yesterday morning that neither its current leader Mary-Lou McDonald, nor its Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill had been invited to the annual event, which takes place in the East Room of the White House on Thursday evening.

However, a Sinn Fein spokesman said the party expects to hear from the White House later this week.

"The issue of invites to the reception are a matter for the White House. The invite list is being finalised and we are waiting to hear from them later in the week," he said.

Ms McDonald and Ms O'Neill are currently in the US as part of a Sinn Fein delegation which includes Mr Adams.

Northern Ireland will also be represented by Secretary of State Karen Bradley, who is set to travel to the US later this week.

It's understood that the head of the NI Civil Service David Sterling will also attend the Speaker's Lunch.

The DUP added that Mrs Foster will visit the US later this year.

"DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA will not be travelling to the United States for the St Patrick's Day celebrations," a DUP spokesperson said. "Mrs Foster has received a number of invitations to meet with key influencers in Washington and New York. She plans to fulfil these later in the year.

"Mrs Foster has asked DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds MP to attend a number of events in Washington DC, including the Speaker's Lunch, on behalf of the Party. Mr Dodds will travel later this week."

The Irish Times yesterday reported that the collapse of Stormont has had an impact on whether or not local political leaders are being invited to the White House event.

There is a long-standing tradition for the White House to invite leaders of the main parties to the event, which is attended by political and civic leaders from both sides of the border.

Meanwhile, the SDLP said yesterday that its leader Colum Eastwood is travelling to the US this week, but will not attend the White House event "in line with the party's protest against the President's misogynistic behaviour and xenophobic policy agenda".

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