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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 22:17 GMT
US cash could underpin devolution
Mr Ahern is to brief President Bush
Mr Ahern is to brief President Bush
It is hoped American money will underpin any new NI power-sharing administration, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has told the BBC.

His comments came as Northern Ireland's politicians met George Bush at the official St Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House.

Irish PM Bertie Ahern presented a bowl of shamrock to the US President.

The president paid tribute to the leadership of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and said he stood ready to help.

Mr Ahern said the Northern Ireland political process was now at the point of completion.

"Mr President, I believe we are closer, than at any time in our past in Ireland, to a resolution to one of the oldest conflicts in history," said Mr Ahern.

"I hope that our journey can give inspiration and hope to other parts of the world that are in conflict and where people are suffering and in despair."

Mr Ahern briefed President Bush about the prospects for devolution.

The White House
Concerns about collusion have taken centre stage in Washington

Most party leaders have opted to stay at home to concentrate on negotiations around power-sharing.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain warned Democratic Unionists who thought they could "sneak by" the 26 March deadline for establishing power-sharing would find they had made the "biggest political mistake of their lives" if it is not met,

"My concern, having listened to some of the chatter and speculation is that some of those people who are saying they can't make March 26 - but they might be able to make May or October, or next year or the following year - are going to wake up on March 27 and find they have made the most catastrophic mistake of their political lives."

'Mood of optimisim'

The plight of victims and concerns about collusion have taken centre stage in Washington.

Raymond McCord, whose son's murder was the subject of a Police Ombudsman's report into collusion, was present.

He is asking the American administration to press the British government over his son's murder and the protection afforded by some special branch officers to loyalist informants involved in murder and other serious crime.

Mr McCord was part of a cross-community delegation led by Relatives for Justice.

Meanwhile, John Finucane, the son of the murdered solicitor Pat Finucane, has told the BBC that he and his mother were introduced to the US President at the White House.

Mr Finucane, along with his mother Geraldine, was introduced to George Bush by Bertie Ahern.

It is understood the meeting followed diplomatic lobbying behind the scenes.

Mr Finucane said the meeting was brief, but beneficial as it followed Thursday night's Senate resolution demanding an independent inquiry into the Finucane murder.

The McCartney sisters, Pauline and Catherine, were also at the White House seeking justice for their brother Robert.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's only Green Party assembly member, Brian Wilson, turned down an invite to the event.

In a statement the party said a two-way trip across the Atlantic to for the event was "not a compelling reason, morally or practically, for emitting half a tonne of CO2".

Business leaders in Northern Ireland have said they believe an economic package of more than 5bn is needed to kick-start and transform the local economy.

The Northern Ireland Business Alliance said the money must be part of any political settlement because a peace process which does not improve the economic lot of people may not be sustainable.

Northern Ireland politicians arrive at the White House

White House celebrates St Patrick's Day
17 Mar 06 |  Northern Ireland
White House restrictions 'concern'
11 Mar 03 |  Northern Ireland
Orde criticised over US comments
10 Jan 03 |  Northern Ireland

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