Ian Paisley has suggested Donald Trump could visit Northern Ireland within the year, saying that the US president had raised the matter with him.
There had been news reports at the weekend saying he could come as early as June after getting an invitation during the recent St Patrick’s Day gatherings in Washington.
Now North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley – who has recently spoken publicly about his desire to have the president visit the Province – said that the invitation came from him, that Mr Trump had broached the subject directly when they spoke at a private White House function on March 15, and that he aims to come “as soon as possible”.
“I wrote to him over a year ago,” said Mr Paisley, adding the invitation was a personal one, not on behalf of the DUP.
“Then I wrote to him again when I knew I was going to be meeting him.
“I got the letter formally given to him through the system, and I got it given to him privately. So he’s been well and truly invited.
“I spoke to him personally about it – actually, it was him who initiated the conversation when I was with him.”
At the private White House event, Mr Paisley said the only other people there were the Trump family, the family of vice-president Mike Pence, and Irish premier Leo Varadkar.
He said Mr Trump talked about golf courses including Royal Portrush and Bushfoot in Bushmills.
“He said at the meeting I was at that Northern Ireland has the best links golf courses, and that he does want to visit as soon as possible.
“My invitation was for him to come here this year or early next year.”
Pressed on the claim that it could be as early as June, Mr Paisley said: “All I would say, and I have to be careful what I say, is I wouldn’t be surprised if it was sooner rather than later.”
He added: “I think that he realises, certainly through my own contacts with him, that his presidency is something that excites a lot of people in Northern Ireland and that he would be talking to people who’d be sympathetic towards his trade views, and towards his worldview.”
He said all presidents who have visited Northern Ireland have “attracted their detractors as well as their supporters” but that such detractors are “closing themselves out from any sort of influence they may have”.
During a pre-St Patrick’s Day meeting with Mr Varadkar, Mr Trump had told reporters a visit to somewhere on the island of Ireland “could happen” next year.
“I look forward to being there. It’s a great country. I guess I’ve received a formal invite,” said the president at the time.
On the subject of Brexit, which may well dominate the news agenda during any visit to the island, Mr Paisley said: “He’s pro a good US-UK trade deal, and obviously Northern Ireland being part of the UK will benefit from that; I can understand why the Republic of Ireland would be nervous about that.”
He added it would put Northern Ireland in “first” place when it came to the relationship the island of Ireland would have with the US.