Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill are set to miss the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington for the second year in a row.
he Executive Office confirmed that the First and Deputy First Minister will not be attending this year’s events due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Northern Ireland’s leaders will miss the chance to ingratiate themselves with new US President Joe Biden, just weeks after he took office.
An Executive Office spokesperson confirmed: “Due to the ongoing public health emergency, Executive Office Ministers will not be travelling this year to the United States over the St Patrick’s Day period.”
Last year Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill cancelled their trip at the last minute following the outbreak of the virus.
Despite the pandemic and travel restrictions in the Republic of Ireland, Taoiseach Micheal Martin has not ruled out attending this year’s events.
It is traditional for the Taoiseach to present the US President with a bowl of shamrocks to mark the occasion.
An Irish Government spokesperson said: “While arrangements for marking the traditional St Patrick’s Day celebrations are not finalised, any arrangements will take account of Covid-19 related measures, both here and in the US.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has also indicated he expects the visit to go ahead.
Here, the UUP and Alliance Party confirmed that none of their representatives will be travelling to the US.
An Alliance spokesperson said that no invitation had been received and none was expected.
The UUP said nobody from the party will be travelling to the US for St Patrick’s Day “given the very serious challenges facing our country and others in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic”.
An SDLP source indicated that it was very unlikely anyone from their party would be in attendance.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwod had vowed never to attend the yearly event while Donald Trump was in office, but would have been a likely attendant this year, but for the pandemic.
Traditionally Northern Ireland politicians use the St Patrick’s Day visit to meet with various businesses and Irish-American interest groups.
They also attend a Speaker’s lunch on Capitol Hill, followed by a White House reception with the President.
Last year’s reception was cancelled, though Taoiseach Leo Varadkar did attend a meeting with President Trump as part of a two-day tour.
Were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s celebrations would have likely been a large-scale event, given President Biden’s pride at his Irish heritage.
While serving as vice-President to Barack Obama, Mr Biden created controversy during the visit in 2015 after joking no-one wearing orange was welcome in his house, while meeting a delegation led by then Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The Taoiseach has already invited President Biden to visit Ireland during his term in office, with the Delaware native reportedly replying: “Try and keep me out”.