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Irish leader, in a final act, hails ties with US

Bertie Ahern spoke in Washington yesterday. Bertie Ahern spoke in Washington yesterday.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Desmond Butler
Associated Press / May 1, 2008

WASHINGTON - Congress gave Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern a rousing farewell yesterday as he hailed ties between Ireland and the United States just days before he plans to step down as premier.

In one of his final acts on the world stage, Ahern also looked back on the peace he helped craft in Northern Ireland.

"After decades of conflict, I am so proud to be the first Irish leader to inform the United States Congress that Ireland is at peace," he said.

Speaking at a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives, Ahern said Ireland and the United States have a relationship forged by generations of Irish immigrants.

Ahern bettered the lives of millions. Kevin Cullen, B1

"To be an Irishman among Americans is to be at home," he said.

Ahern entered the packed chamber of the US House of Representatives yesterday to ceremony and a standing ovation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, invited Ahern two months ago to speak to Congress in recognition of his peacemaking efforts and tenure as one of Europe's longest-serving leaders.

Ahern is widely credited with helping to achieve the Good Friday peace accord of 1998 for the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland, and for overseeing the longest economic expansion in Ireland's history.

The Irish economy, heavily dependent on the involvement of more than 600 US companies, is facing a challenging period of slowing growth and rising unemployment.

Ahern's delegation arrived in Washington on Tuesday. The prime minister is stepping down May 6 as a judicial investigation proceeds into secret payments he allegedly received from businessmen in the 1990s.

He is being replaced by Finance Minister Brian Cowen.

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