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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 12:27 GMT
Analysis: Bush's policy on Northern Ireland
Bush and Ahern
The Bush administration is still formulating its priorities
By Mark Devenport

US President George Bush hosts a St Patrick's reception in the White House on Friday which will be attended by Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and Northern Ireland's political leaders.

One surprise guest at the reception is the hardline Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley who is participating in the US St Patrick's festivities for the first time.

It should really be called St Patrick's month, not St Patrick's Day as Irish Americans have already been on the streets for weeks celebrating their heritage.

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley will be at the celebrations for the first time
At a parade in New York State's Ulster County spectators expressed their hopes for the future in Northern Ireland.

They said the Irish community followed everything that went on but that their overriding concern was for peace.

This year, Irish Americans are marking St Patrick's Day with as much enthusiasm as ever.

Reluctant to intervene

But the political context has changed with a new president in the White House who seems to take a low key approach to the peace process.

So far, George Bush has not demonstrated the close personal interest shown by Bill Clinton but Irish American politicians are hopeful that the clock won't be turned all the way back to the days of the last President Bush, who was reluctant to intervene in an area which might upset his relations with his British ally.

David Trimble and Seamus Mallon
First and Deputy First Ministers, David Trimble and Seamus Mallon have already dined with the new president
US Republican Congressman Peter King said: "I strongly disagreed with the first President Bush's policy on Ireland. His son's policy will be entirely different from that of his father and also this is a new era.

"It's a different time. There's a peace process in place and the US played a leading role in bringing that about.

"I think Bill Clinton's lasting legacy will be that he made Ireland a permanent part of American foreign policy."

President Bush has given his Secretary of State Colin Powell responsibility for Northern Ireland.

It is understood that Secretary Powell is now preparing to ban the splinter group known as the Real IRA which carried out the Omagh bombing.

Martyrs

That is something which some Irish Americans fear could be counterproductive.

Niall O'Dowd, the editor of the Irish Voice Newspaper, said: "I think the focus on them is very unhealthy because if you do ban them then you make martyrs of them and we know from history, particularly Irish history, martyrs make good political advantage..."

The Irish process may not be so high up the agenda, but it remains an issue the White House cannot completely ignore.

St Patrick's Day has provided Northern Ireland's politicians with an early opportunity to make their mark on a US administration still deciding its priorities.

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See also:

15 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
US appoints envoy to NI
16 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
NI leaders in White House talks
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