US billionaire Donald Trump is seriously considering building his luxury golf complex in the North, his top adviser said today.
Trump’s head of international development, George Sorial revealed the tycoon has already negotiated an option to buy a significant piece of land with a mind to bringing his £1bn (€1.3bn) course to the North.
Mr Sorial arrives in the North later today on a two-day fact-finding mission.
Trump, 61, had originally hoped to build his dream course and adjoining hotel and residential complex in the north of Scotland.
However, that proposal has been hit with a series of setbacks.
The Scottish Executive is currently holding an inquiry into a decision by Aberdeenshire Council to reject the initial planning application.
It’s understood the entrepreneur is growing increasingly frustrated with the delays and is actively pursuing other options, with Northern Ireland at the top of his list.
“Northern Ireland is very much on our horizon now,” Mr Sorial said.
“I came here before three weeks ago, but we kept that below the radar. I am now coming back to look more closely at some options.”
Stormont First Minister Ian Paisley met Trump during his visit to New York in December when the two first discussed the possibility of bringing his course to the province.
Mr Sorial said Trump had been very impressed with what Mr Paisley had had to say.
“Investing in Northern Ireland is now something we are eager and enthusiastic about,” added Mr Sorial.
“I’ve been there and seen it and it’s a beautiful country.
“We’ve now enacted an open agreement on a significant piece of land and we’ve got six months to decide whether we want to take up that option.”
Mr Sorial will arrive in Belfast this evening and will be guest at a dinner hosted by Ian Paisley jnr.
Tomorrow he will take a tour of four potential sites. He said he was not in a position to reveal details of the locations.
However it is understood one is at Runkerry near Bushmills in north Antrim.
A source close to the First minister’s office said the purpose of Mr Sorial’s visit was to carry out preliminary investigations.
“Nothing has been agreed and this is very much an exploratory trip but if Donald Trump is going to invest in Northern Ireland he would certainly be welcome,” said the source.
“That would represent a huge boost to the economy and would prove the worth of the trip to America.”
Whether or not Trump will be tempted to shift his plans across the Irish sea is not clear.
Yesterday he praised Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and described the planning issues in Aberdeen as a “little road block”.
However he made clear that he’d received no assurances from Mr Salmond that the application would be given the green light.
Opposition Assembly members in Scotland have accused the SNP-led government of trying to get the plan pushed through.
However, Mr Salmond told the Holyrood scrutiny committee that he’d never used his role as First Minister to influence the council’s decision making process.
Speaking after his meeting with Mr Trump before Christmas, Mr Paisley said he’d told the billionaire his investment would be welcomed in the province.
“We assured him that if he was going to pursue this, that this (Northern Ireland) was the place to go to,” he said “He will visit but we want more than a visit, we want big investment.”