|Is Martin McGuinness more important than the PM? Posted by Ian at 8 46 PM on Saturday, March 7|
BARACK Obama will stage a lavish reception for ex-IRA chief Martin McGuinness - days after snubbing Gordon Brown.
The US president will hold two hours of talks with the former terror boss - more than FOUR TIMES the time he granted the PM.
The News of the World can reveal the astonishing snub has infuriated Downing Street and the British Embassy in Washington.
McGuinness, now Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, flies to America tomorrow (MONDAY) with First Minister Peter Robinson on a ten day tour.
And the pair will enjoy two hours of talks with the US president and a luxurious gala reception on St Patrick's Day, in nine days’ time.
Mr Brown was forced to use a side entrance at the White House and spent just 30 minutes in private talks with the new US President.
Mr McGuinness will walk in through the front door and be given the full State Visit treatment, and will party into the small hours at a special Irish-themed party.
In contrast, a joint press conference with President Obama and the Prime Minister was cancelled by President Obama’s team and the pair had a brief working lunch.
But McGuinness and Robinson will be given a grand reception and will be guests of honour at the star-studded party.
St Patrick’s Day is traditionally the most important day on Ireland's political calendar as leaders from Dublin and Belfast alike converge on Washington.
Joining them will be Irish Taoseach Brian Cowen, who will also be on the top table.
A senior source at the British Embassy in Washington told the News of the World: “This is definitely going to be a complete contrast.
“America always turns green for St Patrick’s Day but this is going to be the biggest celebration for years.
“After slashing numbers from the British delegation during the PM’s trip they are opening the doors as wide as possible for the Northern Ireland visit.
“It also makes you wonder - why did Downing Street suddenly announce they were going to Washington? Everyone thought it was a race against France, with President Sarkozy desperate to get in the door first.
“It would have been a total humiliation to be beaten by the Irish.”
The American Democratic Party has always had close links with Irish Republicans.
Last week Gordon Brown announced veteran Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy is to be given an honorary knighthood.
And the Democrats are determined to use the White House party to show where their traditional sympathies lie.
President Obama is expected to use the meeting to announce he will be appointing a Special Envoy to Northern Ireland.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs joked: “We probably still have those t-shirts that say "O'Bama.”
He confirmed the visit is seen by President Obama as a key event, adding: “The United States and Ireland have strong bilateral relations, deep cultural ties, and a commitment for positive change in the world.
“The President is committed to strengthening our partnership with Ireland to address global challenges.
“The President also looks forward to commemorating his first St. Patrick's Day in the White House, a celebration which serves as a reminder of the rich history of friendship that our two countries share.”
Mr McGuinness said he would be using the meeting to discuss the global recession.
He added: “The recession began in America and so will the recovery. We must now more than ever have a visible presence in the United States.”