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BYE GEORGE; US President tells Ulster: You inspire the world BUSH'S FAREWELL VISIT.

Byline: BY JILLY BEATTIE

THERE was a buzz about George Walker Bush's visit yesterday, creating the perfect end to an eight-day tour of Europe and a final hoorah for a controversial President.

As Northern Ireland's own white house at Stormont stood practically empty, the capital's roads came to a virtual standstill.

The Stormont Assembly was suspended and staff at Parliament Buildings were told to take the day off, a move condemned by the Alliance Party and the SDLP's John Dallat.

MLAs who feared they would get caught in traffic snarl-ups mostly worked from their constituency offices.

Throughout the day security remained at its highest level with the PSNI running their own show while all the President's men kept their eyes trained on their boss and his entourage. There were just three and a half hours between presidential wheels down and wheels up, the coded reference to moments Mr Bush's party landed and departed.

But during that time he squeezed in handshakes and congratulations, meetings and greetings and even played ball with politicians and primary school pupils.

In the end, when the keys to the pounds 100,000 limousine cavalcade where handed back to the South Belfast company from which they had been hired, the historical presidential visit was heralded a success.

Mr Bush was on his way back home, our politicians had received a pat on the back from the world's most powerful man and Northern Ireland was back on the map for all the right reasons.

The message was clear: Northern Ireland is a good news story, a place to visit and a country to invest in.

Speaking outside Stormont Castle Mr Bush said the world had been impressed by the progress of peace and reconciliation. After meeting with First Minister Peter Robinson and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, he said: "I am impressed by the work that is being done in Northern Ireland towards peace and reconciliation, as a matter of fact, the world is impressed."

"This a good place for investment. Ultimately investment will help Northern Ireland reach its full potential.

"Other countries around the world looked to Northern Ireland and wondered if reconciliation was possible for them.

"Today it is a success story. Obviously more work has to be done but progress made to date would have been unimaginable 10 years ago."

After just 12 days as First Minister, Mr Robinson was obviously delighted by the powerful coup for the country.

And in an uncharacteristic moment of hearty joviality Mr Robinson joked with the US president, saying that his visit was recognition that Belfast is now one of the major capitals of Europe.

Mr Robinson said: "We're very grateful not just for him coming today but for the work that has been done by the president and his ambassadors over the previous years, and particularly more recently for the investment conference.

"That endorsement helped to convince people throughout the world that Northern Ireland is open for business."

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness spent 30 minutes with the president discussing a range of topics including the devolution of policing and justice powers to Belfast from London, and the recent successful conference during which a number of US investments in Northern Ireland were confirmed.

Mr McGuinness also thanked Mr Bush for his commitment to the peace process.

He said: "This is an opportunity for us to give our thanks for the tremendous work that has been done... on what is now undoubtedly one of the most successful peace processes in the world today.

"Beginning with the work of President Clinton, plus the contribution of George Mitchell and the envoys, all of them played a very important role in contributing to what I do believe is a role model for how other conflicts can be resolved in other parts of the world."

He explained representatives from Iraq had visited the parliament at Stormont to learn from the peace building that has gone on there.

The Sinn Fein representative said he recognised that the experience of the Northern Ireland peace process may not transfer automatically to other places, but told he felt lessons could be learned.

Mr McGuinness added: "We don't believe we've got all of the answers, but what we can certainly do is outlay our experiences for others to consider."

Following their private talks, the three men were joined by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Taoiseach Brian Cowen for discussions on the Northern Ireland economy.

Talks were held at the Northern Ireland Cabinet table, where the political leaders were joined by Finance Minister Nigel Dodds and Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Reg Empey.

Following the meetings, which lasted 90 minutes, the President left to visit an integrated school in Belfast.

Mr Bush's visit fulfils a pledge he made to former First Minister Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness when he met them at the White House last December.

CAPTION(S):

16/06/2008 3.51pm Stormont President George W Bush with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness yesterday; Secret service mastermind whirlwind tour Airforce One arrives at Belfast International Airport amid tight security; A handshake with waiting guests then...; President George Bush and the First Lady Laura disembark; ...a wave as he sets off for Stormont; And blonde guard keeps a lookout; Swift ride down the emptyM2 for VIP; A laugh with those folks on the hill; Pit-stop over, it's home time; LAST GRIP OF POWER Bush embraces Ian Paisley inside Stormont Castle yesterday. He personally asked to meet the former First Minister to pass on his thanks for invite in December
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 17, 2008
Words:928
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Next Article:More troops to be sent in to Iraq; BUSH'S FAREWELL VISIT.

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