A meeting between Gerry Adams and the US State Department had seemingly been cancelled by the American Government – but has since been rearranged.
Sinn Fein initially denied that the meeting, timed to coincide with the St Patrick’s week festivities in Washington, had been cancelled and accused an unidentified individual of attempting to cause “mischief”.
However, informed sources confirmed that a meeting with a senior State Department official had been arranged with Mr Adams and would not now go ahead.
It was reported on Monday night that, following criticism from the Sinn Fein leader over the State Department’s handling of the affair, this meeting has been re-arranged and will go ahead in Washington on Tuesday.
It is understood that the original meeting was scheduled on the understanding that it would only proceed if welfare reform was resolved following Sinn Fein’s U-turn a week ago to oppose the Welfare Reform Bill.
Rumours that the meeting was cancelled over recent revelations about how Mr Adams and some of his close associates handled sexual abuse allegations have been dismissed by two sources
Last week Gary Hart, the US envoy to Northern Ireland, released a statement which appeared to deliver an ultimatum to the leadership of the Stormont Executive.
He said that the US Government “urge all parties to reach an understanding on the scope of the Agreement as it applies to welfare payments to citizens of Northern Ireland so that a successful series of meetings planned for St Patrick’s Day can go forward as planned in Washington.”
Mr Adams travelled to the US last May, just weeks after being arrested and released over the murder of mother-of-ten Jean McConville.
There is a history of US administrations delivering overt public messages to Northern Ireland’s political leaders at this time of year.
In 2005, in the wake of the IRA’s murder of Robert McCartney, President George W Bush made a point of not inviting any Ulster politicians to Washington for St Patrick’s Day and instead invited the McCartney family to meet him.
There was informed speculation last year that President Obama may not meet Northern Ireland’s leaders - as has become customary - on St Patrick’s Day, out of US annoyance at the failure of the Haass talks and Stormont inertia.
That followed a suggestion from Martin McGuinness that the US may regard St Patrick’s Day as the deadline for reviving the Haass proposals.
In the event, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister had a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, a day after he admonished them in a speech, and then briefly met Mr Obama at an event.
Meanwhile, more has emerged about Martin McGuinness’s decision not to travel to Washington.
On Sunday, Mr McGuinness said: “I have decided to focus on finding a resolution and will therefore not be travelling to the US to take part in events marking St Patrick’s Day.”
However, although the Deputy First Minister framed the decision as his alone, the News Letter understands that because of Peter Robinson’s refusal to go to Washington in the absence of a deal on welfare reform, there was agreement with the US Administration that Mr McGuinness could not travel alone to the White House.