By Susan Falvella Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon
WASHINGTON D.C. — More than 500 businesspeople and political leaders are expected to attend the three-day U.S.-Ireland Business Summit, which opens today in Washington, D.C.
President Bush, however, is not now expected to attend, although his administration will be represented by cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and ambassadors.
Bush would “probably not be able to make it,” summit chairwoman Susan David said Tuesday.
Bush is instead lined up for a GOP fundraiser in Louisville, Ky., around the time that summit organizers hoped he might have been able to put in an appearance.
However, Davis said that despite the president’s absence, the summit had nevertheless attracted a last-minute rush of participants from both sides of the Atlantic.
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The event was originally drawn up around an attendance list of about 400 but Davis said that she now expected roughly 550 to attend one or more summit events between Wednesday and Friday.
Tanaiste Mary Harney will be attending the summit, as will the new Irish ambassador to the U.S., Noel Fahey. The North’s enterprise minister, Reg Empey, will also be attending.
“Great oaks from little acorns grow,” Empey said before his departure for Washington from Belfast. “An idea hatched or contact made at this summit may later develop into something that all our economies will benefit from. Face-to-face contact is crucial in business.”
“It’s pretty exciting,” Davis said. “There are a number of deliverables that will be announced at the summit, but mostly we see it as a catalyst, something that will give a start to many new cross-Atlantic alliances and business partnerships that will last many years.”
The summit will be the third conference between Irish and Northern Irish business, academic, and government leaders and their American counterparts in recent years.
Originally planned for fall 2001, the summit was postponed for a year following the Sept. 11 attack on America.
The summit will be formally opened with a bipartisan congressional reception Wednesday evening jointly hosted by Rep. James Walsh, chairman of the Friends of Ireland, and Sen. Edward Kennedy.
It will conclude with a gala event on Friday evening featuring top Irish entertainment from the likes of flautist James Galway, the Riverdance troupe and the group Cherish the Ladies.