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Just a handful of northern politicians join St Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington

President Barack Obama pictured with former First Minister Peter Robinson and former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the St Patrick's Day reception in White House. Picture by John Harrison

JUST a handful of politicians from the north will be in Washington DC this week to attend what was once one of the key events in the political calender.

During Bill Clinton's presidency in the 1990s, the annual White House St Patrick's Day reception was attended by the cream of the Irish-American political scene.

Even in the Obama era, when Joe Biden's ancestry meant the vice-president took a lead role in the proceedings, Capitol Hill placed great emphasis on celebrating all things Irish.

With the controversial figure of Donald Trump in the White House, however, and the momentum of the peace process abating, fewer politicians see a March 17 trip to Washington as a priority.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams is travelling to the US for two days alongside deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

The Louth TD will be in Washington today to meet the Congressional Friends of Ireland group, attend the Speaker's Lunch and the St Patrick's Day White House event.

But Mr Adams has said there are no plans for him to meet President Trump.

"My focus during this short visit is to brief Irish America and Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill about the recent election, the current state of the negotiations to restore the political institutions, the future of the Good Friday Agreement and the implications of Brexit," he said before departing.

"With the British Prime Minister Theresa May only days away from triggering Article 50 and for the negotiations on Britain's divorce from the EU to commence, this is a hugely important issue for Ireland, for Irish America and the USA."

It is understood that DUP MP Ian Paisley will, however, meet President Trump, as will his party colleague and Belfast mayor Brian Kingston, who is representing the city council alongside a senior official.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jeff Dudgeon is also making the trans-Atlantic trip and is expected to attend the president's White House reception later today.

Last year, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that he would not accept an invitation to meet President Trump and the Foyle MLA is among those not jetting stateside this week. Alliance leader Naomi Long will also be staying at home and focusing on the talks at Stormont.

People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll said Irish politicians should ignore invitations to Washington for St Patricks Day.

"We urge all political representatives, from the taoiseach in Dublin to Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster in Stormont, to send a clear message to Trump that we stand firmly against his dangerous policies," the West Belfast MLA said.

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