President George W. Bush says he is encouraging peace in Northern Ireland by inviting five grieving sisters to a St. Patrick's Day (search) reception at the White House while snubbing Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

"It's very important that people understand that the parties must renounce violence," Bush told reporters on the eve of the holiday, which is marked at the White House (search) by a traditional presentation of a bowl of shamrocks.

Thursday's festivities mark the first time since 1995 that Adams was not invited to the White House on St. Patrick's Day. The Irish government last month identified him as an IRA (search) leader. He denies ever having been a member, although in 1972 he represented the IRA in negotiations with Britain.

Sinn Fein (search) is the legal political arm of the outlawed Irish Republican Army. The IRA is accused of mounting the world's largest cash theft — stealing 26.5 million pounds (euro38 million; $50 million) from a Belfast bank on Dec. 20. IRA members were blamed in the death for killing Catholic civilian Robert McCartney on Jan. 30.

Bush scratched the names of Adams and other Northern Ireland political leaders from the invitation list because of the controversies. Instead, he has invited Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of Ireland and McCartney's fiancee and five sisters.

"We wanted to make sure that we honored those in civil society in Ireland who are contributing positively to the peace process, and that's what we'll be doing on this particular trip," Bush said.

McCartney was beaten and stabbed to death outside a Belfast pub. His sisters have led a campaign to try to bring his killers to justice. They say more than 70 potential witnesses are afraid to identify anyone responsible to police because local IRA figures allegedly were involved.

"I'm looking forward to meeting these very brave souls," Bush said. "They've committed themselves to a peaceful solution, and hopefully their loved one will not have died in vain."

The sisters — Catherine, Gemma, Claire, Paula and Donna — also got support from several senators during a visit to the Capitol on Wednesday. Among them was Irish-American Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who has met with Adams every St. Patrick's Day for the last seven years. He is refusing to see the Sinn Fein leader this year.