Paisley/McGuinness delegation meets George Bush
Paisley/McGuinness delegation meets George Bush

First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have been praised by US president George Bush for their “courage” during a meeting in the White House.

Mr Bush saluted the two men’s leadership in agreeing to the restoration of power sharing earlier this year.

“One of the great things about the presidency is to witness historic occasions and I have witnessed such an occasion with the arrival of Reverend Paisley and Martin McGuinness here to the White House,” he said.

“These two men have dedicated themselves to bettering Northern Ireland with courage, conviction and desire to put aside the past and focus on a hopeful future.

“Though I want to welcome you all here, I want to congratulate you for seizing the moment and writing a hopeful chapter.”

Mr Bush said he was looking forward to discussing how the US could help the North of Ireland. He said one way his government could help was to encourage business leaders in the US to invest in the Six Counties.

Mr Bush was speaking in the Oval Office just hours after presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton said the door would be open to the North’s power-sharing administration in a Clinton White House.

Taking a break from her campaign schedule to meet Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness in a Washington hotel, she said her family’s affection for Ireland north and south was in her DNA.

“We’re very, very impressed and grateful for the progress that has occurred,” the New Year Senator said.

“I am going to do everything I can as president to make sure that the first minister and deputy first minister know they have an open door in the White House and have as much support and encouragement as we can possibly provide.”

The Belfast delegation has been in the United States all week canvassing corporate and political support for the Six County administration.

There was a determination during the visit to emphasise potential economic ties and political matters, such as the war in Iraq and the outstanding disputes in the north of Ireland, were not mentioned.

Mr Paisley told a smiling Mr Bush in the Oval Office: “We want to say thank you to the American people for all they have done for us in the past.

“We did a lot for you in the past too.

“But what I can say is we deeply appreciate that and we also deeply appreciate the fact that we are here today and that you have met us and encouraged us.

“We have had our political squabbles but I think we have come to the end of that. Peace has come.”

Mr McGuinness paid tribute to the support the Bush administration, and the Clinton administration before it, had given to the North’s political process.

“Up until March 26 this year Ian Paisley and I never had a conversation about anything - not even about the weather,” the deputy first minister told Mr Bush.

“Now we have worked very closely together over the course of the past seven months and there hasn’t been an angry word between us.

“So I think that that clearly shows that we are set for a new course. There is peace and stability.”

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