Northern Ireland news

Colum Eastwood: Appointment of Mick Mulvaney as new NI special envoy will be seen by many a 'cynical move' by Trump

Mick Mulvaney, the new special envoy to Northern Ireland
Mairead Holland

THE timing of the appointment of a new US special envoy to Northern Ireland has been questioned by the leader of the SDLP.

Colum Eastwood said news that the US president's former acting chief of staff had taken up the role could be viewed as a "cynical Trump stunt".

Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that Mick Mulvaney would fill the post has which has been vacant since 2017 when he took power.

Mr Mulvaney is an Irish-American with family links to Co Mayo.

Last month he travelled to Belfast where he met former Ardoyne priest Fr Gary Donegan, who will be among guests at the St Patrick's Day Speaker's lunch on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Mr Eastwood suggested that "many will think" the appointment was a cynical move by the president "to capture the Irish-American vote ahead of a presidential election" later this year.

He queried why there was no special envoy during "three years of political crisis" after Stormont's collapse.

"US special envoys have always played an important role in securing support for the peace process, bringing new investment opportunities and placing positive pressure on parties here," he added.

"We'll engage positively with Mick Mulvaney and I have no doubt he'll work hard but this US administration has a lot of work to do to rebuild confidence.'

Trina Vargo, founder of the US-Ireland Alliance and a former senior adviser to the late senator Edward Kennedy, also said she stood by previous comments that there hasn't been a need for a special envoy to Northern Ireland for more than a decade.

However, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill welcomed the appointment, which comes ahead of their trip to Washington this week for the St Patrick's Day celebrations.

Mrs Foster said she had met Mr Mulvaney during his recent trip to Belfast and welcomed his interest in the restoration of a power-sharing executive.

She said: “The US is a key market for us and we will be using our time in Washington to get the message across that we are open for businesses, an attractive place to invest with a skilled and strong work force.”

Ms O'Neill said: “We have strong historical, political and economic connections with the US and I look forward to working with the new special envoy during his term in office to build on those links as we work to protect our interests after Brexit.”

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald also said US special envoys have been "instrumental in facilitating and protecting the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements over the past 22 years".

Political commentators had predicted that Mr Mulvaney's days as acting chief of staff were numbered after a gaffe at a news conference in October during impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump.

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