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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 March 2007, 12:46 GMT
Strange bedfellows at Paddy's shindig
By Martina Purdy
BBC NI political correspondent

Thousands of miles from home, the unlikeliest people are bonding in Washington DC.

Bertie Ahern and George W Bush
Bertie Ahern hands over a bowl of shamrocks to George Bush
Who would have thought that the taoiseach would describe Ian Paisley Jr as his new best friend?

Of course Bertie Ahern was only joking as he was addressing a gathering at the Irish Embassy party.

Mr Ahern quickly added that the relationship was unlikely to last beyond 26 March.

No doubt Ian Paisley Jr sees it as a challenge to prove Mr Ahern wrong.

Naturally, behind this joke is the reality that Dublin and the DUP have made common cause to ensure that London comes up with the funds required to underpin power-sharing.

Martin McGuinness
Optimism has returned to the face of Martin McGuinness
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has not stopped smiling since he arrived in the US Capitol.

That McGuinness glow, so familiar during the last power-sharing years, is back as optimism grows that devolution is on course.

Indeed, the taoiseach told the Ireland Fund dinner this week that the 26 March deadline would be alright.

Was he keeping the pressure on his partner in London or letting the cat out of the bag that power-sharing was a fait accompli?

Certainly on Inside Politics this week, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain was hopeful but much more cautious: ''It's not a done deal. I think there is still some negotiations to be had.''

Those remarks seem out of sync with the congratulory tone coming from the US president at the Shamrock Ceremony, where George W Bush quoted from an Irish proverb: "May the lord keep you in his hand and never close his fist too tight.''

In the absence of the main party leaders, the victims issue and collusion won a lot of attention
Unless, one might have added, it's a fist full of dollars?

While negotiations about filthy lucre, as the SDLP's Seamus Mallon used to call it, took place back in Belfast, and London, the St Patrick's Day celebrations have been just as intense this week.

Even without the big beasts of the DUP and Sinn Fein on Capitol Hill. Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams left Ian Paisley Jr and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness to lead the charm offensive on behalf of their parties.

In a town of lobbyists, everyone from the Northern Ireland Arts Council to the Policing Board was pressing their case. But the word in the bar was that a zealous customs official had confiscated the board's literature.

Ian Paisley (left) and his son Ian Jr
Bertie Ahern joked that Ian Paisley Jr was his new best friend
One wag suggested it might have been because of a picture of Gerry Adams.

A spokesman for the board said the literature and other products such as Policing Board pens had been delayed by customs but they had eventually been delivered.

While the board members were telling a good news story, others told a tale of woe about the past.

In the absence of the main party leaders, the victims' issue and collusion won a lot of attention.

The secretary of state was adamant that if devolution fails, the water bills will come through the letters boxes this month
Raymond McCord, who has campaigned for justice for his murdered son, Raymond Jr, is determined not to let the matter go.

His resolve led to the Police Ombudsman's report earlier this year which concluded some RUC Special Branch officers had colluded with informers to ensure they escaped punishment for serious crime, including murder.

Nuala O'Loan is also here to echo that message. While Mr McCord was complaining that he got better treatment in Washington than he did from British officials at home, he found a sympathetic ear in the taoiseach who has promised to meet him again.

Bertie Ahern also introduced Geraldine Finucane and her son, John, to the president at the White House. Some suspect this took place despite attempts by the British side to discourage it.

Battle of wills

The Finucanes arrived at the White House heartened by a unanimous Senate resolution criticising the terms of the inquiry offered by London and urging a rethink.

This resolution, tabled by Congressman Chris Smith, had already passed Congress in January.

But Mr Hain told the BBC there would be no rethink of the inquiry's terms.

So the battle of wills goes on between the Finucane family and the government, as does the one between the parties and the Treasury over the financial package.

The secretary of state was adamant that if devolution fails, the water bills will come through the letters boxes this month.

As for the newly-elected Green MLA Brian Wilson, he did not travel to Washington - on the grounds he wanted it to be a truly green St Patrick's Day.

He turned down his invitation to the White House in protest at George W Bush's record on climate change - and to ensure he would not be ''morally responsible'' for the half tonne of CO2 emissions coming from return transatlantic flights.

Was he making a case that some of those who had gone to Washington should stay there and save the planet?

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