Page last updated at 06:06 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Politicians lead annual Paddy's exodus

St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin
Recent years have seen Dublin's St Patrick's Day parade move towards a more Brazilian feel

By Shane Harrison
BBC Northern Ireland Dublin correspondent

The Republic of Ireland's political leaders have a unique way of celebrating the country's national holiday, St Patrick's Day. They flee the country en masse.

The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, will be in the White House to present US President Obama with a bowl of shamrock from Waterford Crystal, where workers opposed to the decision to close it down are currently occupying the plant.

Imagine President Obama travelling to Buckingham Palace on 4 July, Independence Day, to present the Queen with a bald eagle or French President Sarkozy visiting Washington DC on Bastille Day, 14 July, to present the US President with a cockerel!

But for decades now every Irish prime minister has made the yearly pilgrimage to the White House to get a few minutes with the most powerful man in the world and bend his ear either on Northern Ireland's Troubles or other matters such as American investment in Ireland.

Bertie Ahern hands shamrock to George Bush
The handing over of a bowl of Shamrock has become a tradition
Northern Ireland's First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, will also be at the White House.

Other members of Mr Cowen's cabinet will also be travelling abroad to where the Irish diaspora moved decades ago and to tell foreign political and business leaders that, despite the current economic doom and gloom, the Republic still has a good future.

Most notably the Irish Finance minister, Brian Lenihan, will be in London where he will meet senior journalists in the Financial Times.

The paper has recently been a strong critic of what it calls Ireland's "cosy capitalism" where senior businessmen, bankers, politicians and regulators all know and help each other out, if only sometimes by turning a blind eye to something they shouldn't.

Mr Lenihan will be keen to put a positive spin on the Republic's economic woes by stressing the tough measures the government has already taken to balance the books over a number of years.

Those measures include raising taxes and public spending cuts.

Tractors gone

Those ministers staying in Ireland and particularly in Dublin have for over a decade seen a completely new type of parade, the centrepiece of a three-day festival.

There are still American bands and majorettes, but gone are all the tractors pulling trailers of girls with ringlets doing Irish dances.

Chicago River dyed green for St Patrick's Day
Many Americans throw their weight behind St Patrick's Day festivities
Instead, with all the samba bands and exotically-costumed dancers, there's a Brazilian carnival feel with giant elaborate puppets and caricatures.

It is a family occasion that has in recent years been marred by excessive drinking and street violence once most of the crowds have gone home.

The political leaders will return home but to a country bracing itself for much tougher times ahead after the mini-budget on 7 April.

Given the feelings many have about the government right now, maybe some ministers might be tempted to stay abroad for a little bit longer.

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