The Taoiseach begins a visit to the US today, which culminates with a meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House on St Patrick's Day.

Mr Cowen's trip will have a strong economic dimension, including a trade mission to Washington DC, Chicago and Silicon Valley in California, involving more than 75 Irish companies and meetings with leading US firms.

Speaking before he left, the Taoiseach said 'the over-riding priority for the Government over the St Patrick's Day period is to send a strong positive message about Ireland's economic future and our plan for economic recovery'.