DUP MP’s Trump card as St Patrick’s delegation visits Washington

Ian Paisley, MP for North Antrim, posted this picture of himself with Donald Trump’s wife Melania in the White House, Washington DC, this week.

It came as a DUP delegation met with a string of political figures in the US capital for a number of days in the run up to St Patrick’s Day.

Tweet put out on Ian Paisley's Twitter account on Thursday of him with Melania Trump

Tweet put out on Ian Paisley's Twitter account on Thursday of him with Melania Trump

Mr Paisley said he was the sole person from NI to have been invited to a private Trump family event on Thursday.

The invite is understood to stem from a long-standing link Mr Paisley has had to Mr Trump, who reportedly met his father Rev Paisley a decade ago.

Whilst much of the focus of the last several days has been on the Irish Taoiseach’s visit to the USA, the DUP delegation has been in the country since midweek.

It is thought it will return to Northern Ireland this weekend.

Tweet on Ian_Paisley's Twitter account, 15-03-18

Tweet on Ian_Paisley's Twitter account, 15-03-18

It is headed by Mr Dodds, who took up an invitation to attend the speaker’s lunch on Thursday in Washington DC, and who is leading the group at the request of Arlene Foster, who is not present.

Neither Mrs Foster nor Michelle O’Neill were given the customary invitation to the White House this year which is typically extended to a First and Deputy First Minister.

A DUP spokesman said Mrs Foster hopes to take up a number of invitations to visit the USA later this year.

The spokesman indicated that this is because she will have more time to discuss Northern Irish matters in depth outside the fast series of engagements of St Patrick’s week.

Tweet put out on Paul Givan's Twitter account, 15-03-18 . Mr Givan (left), Ian Paisley, and Donald Trump

Tweet put out on Paul Givan's Twitter account, 15-03-18 . Mr Givan (left), Ian Paisley, and Donald Trump

It is understood no DUP figures are set to attend St Patrick’s parades on Saturday.

Accompanying Mr Dodds on the American trip is his wife Diane, one of the Province’s three MEPs.

Also with them are Paul Givan and Edwin Poots, MLAs for Lagan Valley, and Jonathan Buckley, MLA for Upper Bann.

Mr Paisley and Mr Givan were pictured meeting Donald Trump himself during a lunch on Thursday.

Mr Dodds’ trip is funded by Parliament, and his wife’s trip by the European Parliament; the other DUP delegates are there as guests of pro-life group “Family and Life”.

It is understood the fact that Ian Paisley was personally invited to a St Patrick’s lunch at the White House is because of a family connection to the Trumps.

A party spokesman suggested this may date back to a meeting Mr Trump had with Rev Ian Paisley concerning golf courses in Northern Ireland.

The Scotsman newspaper reported in January 2008 that Mr Trump and Rev Paisley had met the previous month in New York.

It also said that a meeting between Ian Paisley Junior and a key Trump business aide was thought to be scheduled in January 2008, at which the future of Runkerry golf course on the north Antrim coast was thought to have been up for discussion.

WHO ELSE IS IN THE STATES?

Sinn Fein has also sent senior figures to the States.

Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill, and Gerry Adams were all set to attend events in New York and Washington over the last several days.

These included meeting the Congressional Friends of Ireland on Capitol Hill, attending “a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement”, and meeting the New York mayor before going on Saturday’s St Patrick’s Day parade.

Despite the fact the whole of Sinn Fein’s top leadership was in America, Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty issued a statement on Tuesday lambasting Irish health minister Simon Harris, saying tackling the republic’s health crisis must take “priority over and above any St Patrick’s Day travel plans that minister Harris might have”.

On Wednesday, the party also issued a statement attacking Donald Trump, saying he “does not care about lower income workers”.

The Taoiseach has been in America since last Sunday, when he flew in to Texas.

He has since travelled to Oklahoma, Washington DC and New York, where he had a one on one meeting with Donald Trump on Thursday.

On the way he delivered a speech for the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in the US capital, and is set to attend a St Patrick’s parade in New York on Saturday.

Also in the USA at present are SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and the UUP ex-leader Mike Nesbitt. Both trips are funded by their respective parties.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has also been in the USA in the run up to St Patrick’s Day.