Page last updated at 18:27 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 19:27 UK

No black stuff for Bush hack pack

By Martina Purdy
BBC NI political correspondent

George Bush
Reporters asked if the president had been delayed by a traffic jam
George Bush arrived at Stormont just five minutes behind schedule - amid jokes from the press corps that he had been delayed at traffic jam blackspot Sandyknowes en route from Aldergrove.

As presidential time-keeping goes, George Bush was doing well - maybe he couldn't wait to get seeing Ian Paisley again.

After all, the former first minister seemed to charm the US president when he and Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister, visited him at the White House in December.

The allotted 15 minutes - which was supposed to include the time it took from the entrance to the exit - stretched to an hour.

When his convoy arrived at the estate it avoided the main gate where a small group of protestors had gathered and headed up the Massey Avenue entrance.

Not the route to get the best view of Parliament Buildings, it must be said.

Did he get a glimpse of the peace and reconciliation statue as he passed?

There didn't seem to be time as a snake of black SUVs and the presidential limo - marked by its fluttering flags - darted past Carson's statue and the local media to head for Stormont Castle.

Local journalists, and those who made the trip from Dublin, were not too happy to be kept in a marquee on the hill watching the rest of the proceedings on big screen television.

Might they not have done this from their offices?

Their mood wasn't helped by the sight of the White House press corps heading with the president to their own big tent by the castle - where, apparently, the Guinness-on-tap was waiting.

However, reporters were amused to hear that it was only a skeletal White House press corps, known as the "Death Watch" pool.

Those reporters were only there in case George W Bush was assassinated.

The MLAs, for the most part, stayed away.

Tommy Gallagher made it to the lawn to be interviewed, but otherwise Parliament Buildings seemed deserted except for the catering and security staff.

Despite being a rather controversial president, George Bush seemed to have little to fear from the protesters who had gathered at the bottom of the Prince of Wales Avenue.

This relatively small group was only marginally larger than the line of well-wishers who had turned up.

These curious Bush fans stayed on the opposite side of the Upper Newtownards Road lest anyone take them for protesters.

Inside Stormont Castle, before the president was reunited with Ian Paisley, he had a bit of business to do with the first and deputy first minister, other executive ministers, and the British and Irish prime ministers at Stormont Castle.

There was even a bit of chat about policing and justice issues, but no-one went into any detail.

About half an hour was scheduled to discuss investment opportunities - certainly enough time to explain to Gordon Brown that there was no jobs announcement.

Is the prime minister always the last to know, he must have wondered?

Apparently, it had been hoped to announce some jobs, but the deal had not been finalised.

Was the prime minister confused by some of the acronyms that the rest of us have been hearing about?

Potus and Flotus are the nicknames for the president of the United States and the firstlady of the United States.

Speaking of first ladies, Baroness Paisley was at her husband's side when the president called in for his chat.

A Stormont source says the president presented Ian Paisley with an enamel box which had a painting of the Oval Office on it.

Baroness Paisley was presented with a scarf signed by First Lady Laura Bush.

But it was Peter Robinson who played co-host with Martin McGuinness.

While he smiled at the president, there was no chuckling for the media. The new first minister is, one might say, a safe pair of molars.

Mr Robinson did, however, make the president chuckle, when in his droll way, he congratulated George Bush for his choice in recognising Belfast as one of the major European cities he needed to visit before leaving office.

Martin McGuinness stuck to thanking the president for his support in helping to create one of the most successful peace processes in the world.

The trio disappeared back inside the castle before anyone thought of making a joke about a Carlsberg commercial.

As for the president, he gave two presidential pats on the back to Peter Robinson and one to Martin McGuinness.

Where are those body language experts when you need them?


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