A shake-up in the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the White House will see far more non-Irish invited to take part in the event, which will occur in the evening of March 17 rather than in the morning, as happened under President George W. Bush. White House sources say that the Obama administration’s plan is to bring together people whose paths might not ordinarily cross, so the overarching question for the St. Patrick’s Day scheduling committee is, “How do we Obama-tize this event?” The answer is that they plan to shake up the traditional format. For this reason the St. Patrick’s Day celebration will very intentionally include people who are not of Irish descent. Traditionally, under both Presidents Bill Clinton and Bush, the event was attended by Irish American leaders from many different walks of life. The new format is expected to see other ethnic groups also invited as part of the multi-ethnic approach of the Obama administration. Earlier in the day President Barack Obama will receive the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen at the White House for a series of Irish-themed celebrations, in one of the president’s first meetings with a foreign leader since taking office in January. Although the White House has yet to finalize the details of the event, it is expected to include the traditional presentation of a bowl of shamrock by Cowen, followed by a bilateral government meeting and a reception in the White House. The White House director of media Shin Inouye told the Irish Voice, “President Obama will welcome Taoiseach Cowen to the White House on Tuesday, March 17.  The St. Patrick’s Day visit will serve as a reminder of the rich history of friendship that our two countries share.” In a statement White House spokesman Robert Gibbs added that the new president is committed to strengthening U.S. ties with Ireland. He said the two countries already have deep cultural ties and a “commitment for positive change” across the world. Gibbs said St. Patrick’s Day is a reminder of the friendship the two countries share. In a statement on Friday Cowen said that his first face-to-face meeting with Obama would place a particular emphasis on the severe economic problems besetting both economies. Cowen said he planned to discuss how two governments could work together to tackle what he called “these unprecedented challenges.” It is understood that Cowen has also scheduled a series of high-level meetings on Capitol Hill, including his attendance at the annual St. Patrick’s luncheon hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill. Northern Ireland’s first and deputy first ministers Peter Robison of the DUP and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein are also scheduled to attend the festivities on March 17 as part of a wider trip to the U.S. to drum up investment for the North. A delay in the scheduling of the event this year had led to criticism in the Dail (Irish Parliament), fuelling speculation that the traditional shamrock ceremony might become a thing of the past under the Obama administration. Cowen had been forced to answer questions in the Dail about why he had not received an invitation to attend a traditional St,. Patrick’s Day ceremony at the White House. “I am delighted to accept President Obama’s invitation to Washington on St. Patrick’s Day,” Cowen said in statement. “The celebration of our national day in the White House is a great tradition which reflects the enduring friendship between Ireland and the United States. I look forward to presenting the president with the bowl of shamrock as a symbol of the warmth and strength of our relationship.” Cowen will travel to the U.S. on Sunday, March 15, first to New York, where he will launch the new Irish website www.irishcentral.com. On Monday he will address a business breakfast in the morning hosted by Enterprise Ireland before leaving for Washington, D.C., where he will attend the annual American Ireland Fund dinner that evening. Efforts are underway by dinner organizers to secure an appearance by Obama. One of his top campaign supporters, Dan Rooney, is the guest of honor at the dinner. Rooney is the favorite to be named as the new U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

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