Sinn Fein’s new leader in Northern Ireland has withdrawn the promise of a “warm welcome” for Donald Trump after it emerged her predecessor had invited the new US president to visit the Province.
Within hours of the publication of the written invitation – signed on November 9 by the then First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness – Michelle O’Neill said the actions of Mr Trump since taking office “mean that an invitation to visit would not now be appropriate.”
The DUP’s Nelson McCausland said Sinn Fein had been “caught out trying to ride two horses at once” by both welcoming Trump’s election and slamming his policies.
“Sinn Fein can’t deny it and say ‘we signed up to an invitation but we didn’t know.’ It was over the news day after day during the campaign in America,” Mr McCausland said.
Women’s rights campaigner Goretti Horgan said she was shocked that the invitation had been issued and added: “To say that they didn’t know what his policies were before he was elected – it’s just ridiculous. Do they not watch the news?”
In the Sinn Fein statement, Mrs O’Neill singled out the new president’s radical immigration policies as running “counter to international standards and decency”.
Throughout his campaign to secure the Republican nomination for the presidency, Mr Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the US.
At a rally in New Hampshire in October 2015, he told supporters that refugees could be Isil fighters in disguise, and added: “If I win, I’m going to say it right now and I’ll say it to you ... those 200,000 people – they have to know this and the world will hear it – are going back.”
Returning to the subject of Muslim immigration at a rally in New York in December 2015, he said: “Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Mrs O’Neill’s statement adds: “If I was in the Executive Office at this time I wouldn’t issue an invitation and I’m confident that Martin McGuinness wouldn’t either.”
The Sinn Fein statement adds: “The actions of President Trump since taking office, mean that an invitation to visit would not now be appropriate.”
Speaking in the Dail earlier this week, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams described Mr Trump’s decision to halt the US refugee programme as “a subversion of acceptable standards of decency and equality”.
Mr Adams said that the Taoiseach should “assert clearly the Irish people’s total opposition, in the strongest possible terms, to the racist, anti-women and anti-immigration policies of President Trump”.
Mr McCausland said: “The warm welcome was mentioned after the was elected – after he had made all of his policy commitments.
it was in the full knowledge of who the person was and the policies he was espousing, and now they are trying to distance themselves.”
Mr McCausland added: “They rely so much on Irish America, on staying in touch with that support base, but it creates difficulties for them.”
The letter of invitation was obtained and made public yesterday by the Impartial Reporter newspaper in Fermanagh.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “The Sinn Fein U-turns are coming thick and fast.”
He tweeted: “A new one on Trump. As if they didn’t know what he was like when they invited him here.”
In a statement released before the Sinn Fein change of policy, Mr Eastwood said: “It is astounding that the former first and deputy first ministers offered Trump a warm welcome here, that they are eager to appease a man of his character and sell out their principles so quickly.
“Sinn Fein’s new Northern leader should now break from this tacit endorsement of Trump in return for the crumbs from his table and rescind this invitation.
“She should also distance herself from the close relationship the party shares with Peter King, a man labelled as the architect of the Muslim ban.”
Women’s rights campaigner Goretti Horgan said it was hard to understand why Sinn Fein agreed to invite Mr Trump.
“We knew what his policies were going to be during the election – he made that very clear,” she said.
“He said, for example, that women should be punished for having abortions. Maybe that sits well with the first and deputy first ministers?
“But certainly his misogynist attitude towards women, talking about grabbing them and stuff like that, it’s hard to know how any party that says it stands for equality could send him an invitation.”
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: “On this occasion Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness got something right in trying to get the leader of the wealthiest nation in the world to visit Northern Ireland.”
TUV Lagan Valley candidate Samuel Morrison said: “If the US President were to visit Northern Ireland I have no doubt that he would receive a warm welcome.”
Alliance East Antrim candidate Stewart Dickson said: “To extend such an offer is at best premature and at worst risks aligning us with the appalling start to his presidency.”