According to White House officials, the usual “press plane” that carries several dozen reporters, producers, and camera people from the top U.S. media outlets will not accompany the president on his brief visit where he will take in Stormont and meet with Northern Ireland political leaders.
There will be the small handful of “pool” members of the press that will remain with the president flying aboard Air Force One and covering the visit to the North.
Cost is the reported reason why the press plane will not go along with the president, which is the usual protocol for a presidential journey.
Costs are indeed huge and are shouldered completely by the participating media members who pay for the chartered press plane.
A transatlantic flight can cost up to $5,000 for one seat on the plane. However, in this case, the press will flying directly back to Washington from London, and will just leap frog the Belfast stop. How much of savings that would be is questionable.
Mr. Bush will arrive in Belfast after a week long trip to other European capitals including, Paris, Berlin and Rome, a stop that will include visit to the Vatican.
Bush will also attend the European Union summit in Slovenia, before flying to London and later that day to Belfast. British Prime minister Gordon Brown is expected to accompany Bush to Belfast.
The genesis of the Belfast trip was an invitation by former First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness extended to Bush while the duo were meeting the president at the White House last winter.
They originally invited him to attend the investment conference held last month in Belfast. The president sent a video greeting to the conference and White House staff then told Northern Ireland officials that they would like to visit en route back from Europe in June.
“We share with you the firm belief that even greater opportunities for cooperation lie ahead,” said Mr. Bush in the video.
This will be the second visit to Northern Ireland during Mr. Bush’s presidency. He met with former British prime minister Tony Blair and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern at Hillsborough Castle in 2003. It will be a first visit to the north for First Lady Laura Bush, however.
In an interview with Baltimore Sun, former taoiseach and now EU ambassador to the United States John Bruton predicted that President Bush will receive a good reception from politicians on this final swing through Europe as president.
“Those who have met him on a one-to-one basis, including a lot of European leaders, have grown to like him personally,” said Bruton.
As with all of his previous visits abroad, security for this trip will be paramount, and any protesters will be kept physically well away from the president. Five years ago, Mr. Bush was greeted by 400 protesters in Belfast.