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Sunday, 16 July, 2000, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Differences at the helm of government
White House
A trip to the White House has been postponed
By BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Mark Simpson

It is fortuitous that this week's planned visit to Washington by the First Minister David Trimble and the Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon has been postponed.

It is not exactly an ideal time to be on the world stage talking about how wonderful life is in Northern Ireland.

And if anyone is any doubt about how difficult it is to promote the province at the moment, they should talk to the tourism minister Sir Reg Empey.

Seamus Mallon
Seamus Mallon: Denied resignation claims
Ten days of Drumcree-related violence at the start of July have damaged Northern Ireland's social, economic and political well-being.

But that is not why the trip to the White House was called off.

It appears the main reason was diary problems, not least the fact that President Clinton's current focus is on the Middle East talks which are taking place in the negotiating suite at Camp David.

A re-arranged visit is likely to take place before the autumn.

And there is still a possibility that Mr Clinton will return to Ireland before the end of the year, which also happens to be the end of his presidency.

If this week's visit had gone ahead, observers would have been watching closely the body language of Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon.

Last week, they had their first public row since the return of devolution - with a major dispute over the new Police Bill.

Disputes between the first and deputy first minister are normally kept well away from the glare of publicity, but passions are running so high over the policing issue that it was, perhaps, inevitable that the tensions would boil over.

David Trimble
David Trimble: Public row
And so they did. Mr Trimble was quoted as saying he had been told Mr Mallon had threatened to resign over the Police Bill.

Not true, came the response from Mr Mallon, and he criticised the Ulster Unionist leader for making the comment in the first place.

One might be forgiven for thinking "well if those two can't get on in Northern Ireland, who can?"

But in reality, given the fact that the Stormont executive is a forced coalition, rather than a voluntary one, such disputes should be no big surprise.

And it is no secret that in spite of a good working relationship, Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon have never been close friends.

Differences of opinion in the offices of the first and deputy first minister are nothing new - especially on policing.

But in spite of the difficulties, there is nothing to suggest that President Clinton should switch the venue for his next meeting with the two men from the White House to Camp David.

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See also:

07 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Drumcree parade ban stays
07 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Orange leader 'won't condemn violence'
06 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Orange protests 'wrecking' tourism
06 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Picture gallery: Drumcree dispute
Links to more Northern Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


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