It was one thing when White House press secretary Ari Fleischer made a little slip last week in talking with reporters about President Bush's trip to Northern Ireland.

"Where in Northern Ireland will the two leaders meet?" a reporter asked.

"Dublin," Fleischer said.

"No, no. . . ." reporters corrected.

" I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Fleischer said. "I said, 'Dublin.' I had written down Belfast and I said 'Dublin,' " the capital of Ireland.

"A historic development, Ari," one reporter quipped to much laughter in the room.

"Thank you for the -- I was not a geography major," Fleischer said, to more general laughter.

But then on Monday, when the official White House press credentials and schedules were distributed, reporters began wondering just what was going on. Both said, "The Trip of the President to Belfast, Ireland."

Indeed, making Belfast, Northern Ireland -- which is part of the United Kingdom -- a part of Ireland, would be the Catholic Sinn Fein's fondest wish -- and the Protestants' greatest nightmare. It's the heart of the battle.

Some reporters on the trip saw the gaffes as emblematic of a larger issue: the administration's non-engagement on the issue, one that was near the top of the Clinton administration's foreign policy agenda.

Worse, while some presidential time was given to a lunch with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and to talking up the faltering Good Friday Accords that established a "road map" for resolving the conflict, Bush's focus was naturally on the war in Iraq.

Now there's talk of a postwar push for a "road map" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, another top Clinton focus studiously played down by the Bush folks.

Gotta hope that map will have accurate markings. Wonder where they'll put Jerusalem?

Bush to See Paris, Freedom

Speaking of presidential travel, Bush's trip was conducted amid especially tight security. And his meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair was held at a castle a dozen miles from town. But that may be nothing compared to another European trip planned for this summer.

In fact, a senior European official recently wondered whether Bush's security detail will let him attend the G-8 Summit, which is scheduled to be held in -- of all places -- Paris.

Down Payment on Road to Magical 1000%

Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) stirred up some raw feelings this week. In an interview with Roll Call newspaper, Coleman, who was elected to the Senate after Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.), his wife, daughter, three aides and two pilots died in an airplane crash just before the election last November, said: "To be very blunt and God watch over Paul's soul, I am a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone, just about on every issue."

Naturally, Wellstone fans were furious. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) called for Coleman to apologize, saying his remarks were inappropriate and disrespectful. A "shameful, self-serving assertion," said former Wellstone spokesman Jim Farrell.

Coleman issued a statement Monday night saying he should have made clear that he was comparing his relationship to the Bush administration to Wellstone's.

Probably would have helped.

'This Idiot' Sues Bureaucrat

Loop Fans may recall that most unfortunate e-mail that Thomas A. Scully, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, recently sent to a Gallup Organization managing partner in response to that official's complaint of biased contracting procedures.

After warming up by calling the Gallup official, Robert L. Nielsen, a "weasel" and a "jerk," Scully, sending a copy of the e-mail to an Office of Management and Budget aide, said, "I would like to investigate this idiot."

In Washington, them's litigatin' words. So Gallup naturally filed a $5 million lawsuit yesterday in federal court here against Scully, accusing him of intimidation and threats in retaliation for Nielsen's complaints of "collusion" in the bidding process.

Junior Year and Graduation Is Nearer

The third year of any administration is when folks start shuffling around. Some move out of government, others move up to replace them.

Recent shuffling includes: James J. Jochum, now assistant secretary for export administration at the Commerce Department, who's to be assistant secretary for import administration; Peter Keisler, now principal deputy associate attorney general, who is moving to be assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, and Robert D. McCallum Jr., assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, who is to be associate attorney general.

Associate U.S. Trade Representative Josette Shiner is moving up to be a deputy U.S. trade rep, with the rank of ambassador, replacing Ambassador Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who's going home to Utah. Shiner, former managing editor of the Washington Times, now handles policy and communications.