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Ian Paisley and Donald Trump hit it off as 'they had nothing to prove to each other'

By Ian Paisley Jnr

About 10 years ago I was in New York City with my father.

A news story broke about a Trump Corporation development in Scotland running into trouble and how the financier Donald Trump was considering alternative opportunities, perhaps even the North Antrim Coast.

My father never missed an opportunity. It was his style. He once told me the opportunity of a lifetime must be taken within the lifetime of the opportunity and he set me the task of setting up a meeting with Donald Trump.

With the help of Norman Houston from the NI Bureau we got a meeting and within a matter of hours Dad, one of his economic advisors, Nigel, and myself were in the gold lift heading to the penthouse suite in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

Donald Trump's office had glass on three sides looking out over Central Park and surveying the great metropolis. Like most people who entered that room, we found the view breathtaking.

His first words of welcome were to usher us all to the window to see the impressive view. I remember him joking that the parkland was a wasted development opportunity in the heart of the city.

At that meeting Donald Trump was nothing like his now well-known television persona. He was courteous, respectful, insightful and knowledgeable.

He had a number of maps of North Antrim and asked a number of key questions about developing a hotel and golf complex there or somewhere else in the province. He had clearly done a lot of research and knew local valuation reports and quoted them with ease.

He was also very candid and said he didn't want to waste time as he believed he would resolve the Scottish problem as the land there was very important to him as his mother hailed from those parts.

At the meeting Donald and my father hit it off. Big personalities can sometimes clash, but the two of them were very comfortable and confident and so had nothing to prove to each other.

I remember Donald Trump being very gracious to my father and saying he had followed some of his political activity and was "honoured to be in the presence of a political legend". Since that day I often teased Dad, calling him "legend".

That was the start of a number of meetings. I was asked to return to New York a few months later and to meet with Donald Trump and his team. The team was essentially his family, Donald jnr, Evenki and Eric.

They were accompanied by George Sorial, an incredible businessman whom I have got to know very well.

It was decided after that meeting that it would be beneficial for the Trump Org to visit Northern Ireland and get a better handle on the country and any potential opportunities. They are not an investment company but a brand developer who partner up with teams and whose brand then adds significant value to a project.

We identified some potential partners and over the next three years I was involved in numerous meetings with members of the team and partner groups in NI.

I know that those meetings gave the team a good grounding in NI and exposed them to the business world in Northern Ireland. Eric Trump visited me in Northern Ireland during this period. We spent a couple of days together meeting folk and seeing the country.

He is very much his father's right-hand man and I suppose when you get close and see a family team in operation like that you can assess quite quickly the quality and authenticity of the family.

My experience of the family is that they are courteous, well-mannered, respectful and intelligent individuals who each add considerable weight and authority to the Trump Org. On one occasion when I was in NYC on holiday I let Donald know I would be over and we met with his family and he hosted my wife Fiona and me to a lovely day in New York discussing with his children the business and life in general. They were a well-balanced, contented, happy family and I think that more than most impressed me about the quality of the man. You can tell a lot about a man by his family and friends. If he brings that human management skill to the White House it will be a better place.

Some years before this election campaign I spoke to him and George about the political situation and asked him if he had ever considered going into politics.

He didn't say no but he did relay that his life was caught up in business and he would have to do it properly and give it so much time. Some rumours were growing about his political interest but nothing happened until about two years ago when those seeds had certainly caught root.

Shortly after he announced he would be a candidate and seek the nomination, I commenced a regular communication with him by email, sharing my own views and letting him know that if he required an international platform in London to speak about his campaign, then parliament's Group on America, of which I am a member, would facilitate him.

He was very clear he needed to get close to the grassroots of America and become an authentic voice of what was wrong with his country. Eighteen months later it is clear to see that voice has been given authority to speak for the most powerful nation on earth.

Northern Ireland boxes well above its weight in the US. It has great recognition on Capitol Hill and it has had the attention of Presidents in the past. We can be content with that relationship.

Or we can see that the modern world is going through a revolutionary change. We have seen it in Brexit in the UK and it is abundantly apparent in the US that revolutionary change is upon us. So let's go with it.

Trump has spelt out that the UK will not be at the back of the line in trade deals with the US but will be up front. So a little corner of the UK has a foot in the door - let's push on and build on that relationship. After all, we are the porch to the UK and Europe from America's vantage point. All of the barking of the campaign can't just be dismissed - it touched upon a dissatisfaction with American political elites. That will have to be confronted by the new President. But the bite will be different from the bark.

I left a voicemail on his office phone in the early hours of this morning congratulating the new Commander-in-Chief elect and asking him to plan to visit Northern Ireland and help us build a relationship with him in his 45th presidency because I think that's the job of politicians and I won't miss that opportunity!

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