Who'll be bringing the shamrock to Washington?

The Department of Foreign Affairs has maintained it is undertaking "normal preparations" for state representation at St Patrick's Day events in the US and elsewhere.

However, amid continued confusion about how such visits will work in light of the impending general election, it revealed that the "number and nature" of the delegations that will represent the state at the various events has yet to be decided.

Last week, it emerged that Green party minister Eamon Ryan had written to Taoiseach Brian Cowen proposing that opposition leaders and president McAleese should be asked to represent Ireland abroad.

It is also understood that another option might be for the government's ambassadors and consul staff, who typically attend such events in the course of their duties, to act as "stand-ins" for the government in light of the "unique" situation of a general election.

However, a spokesman for the department did not comment when asked about this.

"Normal preparations are being undertaken by the department in regard to St Patrick's Day events in the US and elsewhere. The number and nature of the delegations has yet to be determined," he said. "This is a matter for government decision and it would not be appropriate for the department to comment any further."

The potentially divisive issue of how to ensure the state is properly represented on St Patrick's Day trips abroad was first raised by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny earlier this month, when he said any government ministers travelling abroad on St Patrick's Day would be "the most cynical swansong that you could ever imagine".

Ryan outlined his own views at last week's meeting of the cabinet, and followed it up with a letter to Cowen.