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Saturday, March 17, 2007

ST.Patricks Day Gift? President Bush Think So

US president George Bush threw his weight behind the Taoiseach's strategy on Northern Ireland at the St Patrick's Day reception in the White House yesterday by saying the March 26th deadline for a deal on powersharing could not be altered.

Mr Bush's insistence that the deadline needed to be met came as a security alert sparked by an intruder in the White House grounds disrupted media coverage of the event. The unarmed man was arrested but a security lockdown prevented the Taoiseach's planned press conference outside the building.

Mr Bush made his comment at the reception in the White House at which the media was excluded from. It was attended by nearly 100 people, including Ian Paisley jnr, Northern Secretary Peter Hain and a range of US politicians with Irish connections. Sources said the president backed the tough stance of the Irish and British on the March 26th deadline.

The US secret service attempted to cancel the post reception press conference due to the security alert but President Bush insisted that an alternative venue should be found in a nearby public building.

Before the reception the Taoiseach presented the president with the traditional bowl of shamrock. "I cannot thank you enough for your strong leadership in resolving the issues of Northern Ireland, and I stand ready to help," Mr Bush said.

Mr Ahern thanked the president for his support. "Time is pressing. It is our deepest wish, and one that I know you share with us, Mr President, that nothing should allow the process to falter at this final moment."

Mr Ahern expressed the belief that Ireland was closer than at any time to the final resolution of one of the oldest conflicts in history. Later the Taoiseach told journalists that during his meeting with the president they had an opportunity "to work out our tactics over the next week or so in relation to the North.

"We also had a meeting with Peter Hain, so hopefully we will work ahead and make great progress. We had an opportunity last night to talk to Ian Paisley jnr as well, so we all know what we have to try and do during the week and we will be making every effort we can."

He said that the parties would obviously try to secure as much as they could in an economic package.

"I think the British government will be as helpful as they can on that but I don't see every item conceded," the Taoiseach said.

He added that the Irish and British governments and the American administration took the same view of the necessity for a deal by March 26th.

"The date is a big date in Northern Ireland history and politics. The DUP will try and broker as many things as they can prior to that date. Nobody can blame them for that. In the end you have to make an agreement, you have to enter some compromises. So I think we will have a busy week, so hopefully we will get there on the 26th."

Later Ian Paisley jnr said he was not focused on the calendar. "It's not a question of a date being used to finalise everything. It's a question of getting the conditions right and then we'll finalise everything.

"If people were calendar-led, Mr Hain's government could quite easily fix a date for when they're going to withdraw from Iraq and stick to it. That would be just stupid and preposterous. While I don't want to describe their policies in Northern Ireland as stupid and preposterous, I think it is rather ironic that they're holding to a calendar date as opposed to sticking to the conditions," said Mr Paisley.

"If he thinks that holding this date and this claim that it's the 26th and then the lights go out, that doesn't put pressure on us. That doesn't put us under any pressure whatsoever. I'm in this thing for the long haul to get the conditions right."

However, Mr Hain told The Irish Times that the delay being sought by some DUP members would be catastrophic for Northern Ireland's politicians, including them.

"If they don't agree to form an executive on the 26th, then that will be telling the electorate that voted so overwhelmingly on March 7th that nobody is listening to them," he said.

"My main worry at this stage is that some of those arguing that they can sneak past the 26th will find themselves on the 27th out of a job with Stormont shut down."

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