The Democratic Unionists may appoint a representative in the United States to put the party’s case directly to opinion-formers, the Rev Ian Paisley said today.
On the eve of the DUP’s first conference since capturing half of the North's 18 Westminster seats in last year’s election, the North Antrim MP said the party was actively looking at the idea.
“I was in Tennessee recently at a very good church meeting where we had 2,300 men at supper,” he said.
“There were a lot of state senators and congressmen there, a lot of judges, businessmen and people from the educational hierarchy.
“There were also a lot of Roman Catholics and one man said: ’You know, you are not selling your story here. You are missing out’.
“He said people in Northern Ireland always think the place to go to is Boston. But he said ’America isn’t Boston and you need to wake up to that’.
“So we decided at our parliamentary body meeting that we would take this very seriously. It is a big task. Everything has to be registered if you want to lift a dollar.
“But we wouldn’t be expecting to go out there for the purpose of raising money. However, we will need to raise money to get this operation started.”
Sinn Féin has been very successful in raising funds in the United States and Canada among the Irish diaspora. The party’s representative in North America, Rita O’Hare, is also regarded as an effective lobbyist in Washington.
The Ulster Unionists have a Washington bureau.
Mr Paisley said Sinn Féin’s success in the US was down to the Irish American community’s retention of its own distinct identity.
“About 100 years ago there were Ulster societies all over the place but they merged themselves into the country,” the DUP leader said.
“The Irish have never fully merged themselves. It is still Irish America. We need to address this issue. This is the time to do it because the present administration in Washington is more favourable than the Democrats.”
Mr Paisley confirmed he had received an invitation from four US senators, including veteran Democrat Edward Kennedy, to meet them in Washington in March, which he hoped to do.
The DUP leader was also invited to this year’s State of the Union address from President Bush but was unable to attend.
“I had an invitation to come over and attend the State of the Union address from the Speaker of the Congress but I told him I would not be available,” he said. “But certainly the next time I would be prepared to go.”