Unionist voice ‘to be heard’ in Washington

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds is to visit Washington this week
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds is to visit Washington this week

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said he will use his visit to Washington this week to spell out that Sinn Fein is “blocking” devolution.

It comes after reports that neither Arlene Foster nor Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald received an invitation to attend the annual St Patrick’s Day reception in the White House on Saturday.

According to the Irish Times, the two leaders were apparently snubbed by the US administration due to the failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

The DUP said Mrs Foster had been invited to meet with “key influencers” in Washington and New York, but she has instead asked North Belfast MP Mr Dodds to go on behalf of the party.

He will attend events in Washington DC including the speaker’s lunch at Capitol Hill, and will also meet senior officials in the State Department as well as attending events to promote Northern Ireland, including a breakfast event at the NI Bureau.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Mr Dodds said it was vital that the unionist voice is heard in Washington.

He added: “People in Washington should know that four out of five parties in Northern Ireland would form an Executive tomorrow.

“Sinn Fein is the only party blocking that. For 13 months Sinn Fein has disgracefully stood in the way of key decisions impacting on schools, roads and hospitals.”

While the DUP and SF leaders have not been invited to visit the White House this weekend, the US Consulate in Belfast confirmed that David Sterling, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, is to have lunch with the US president on St Patrick’s Day.

DUP MP Ian Paisley has also been invited to the White House by President Trump.

The two men have known each other for the past 10 years and Mr Paisley was a guest of the president last year after his inauguration.

Mr Paisley is to dine with President Trump and also attend a White House reception.

The North Antrim MP said: “I will be encouraging him to continue to support Northern Ireland. Our cultures are tied by history and trade. We must continue to develop such links.”

Mr Paisley, along with colleagues, will attend other events and meetings to promote Northern Ireland.

DUP MLAs Edwin Poots and Paul Givan have been invited to Washington DC as guests of the pro-life group Family and Life.

When the News Letter on Tuesday asked Sinn Fein if a party representative would be attending the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, a spokeswoman said they were “waiting to hear” from the White House.