Fri, May 02, 2008 - Page 7 News List

US Congress gives Bertie Ahern a rousing farewell

AP , WASHINGTON

The US Congress gave Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern a rousing farewell on Wednesday as he hailed ties between Ireland and the US just days before he plans to step down as leader.

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

??fter 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 that Ireland and the US have a relationship forged by generations of Irish immigrants.

??o be an Irishman among Americans is to be at home,??he said.

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

The leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, invited Ahern two months ago in recognition of his peacemaking efforts and tenure as one of Europe?? 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?? 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.

After highlighting the contribution of the many waves of Irish immigrants to the US, Ahern made a plea for a deal that would allow Irish citizens who live in the US illegally to obtain US residency.

Ahern has been criticized in the past for not championing the cause of the undocumented Irish workers.

??e hope you??l be able to find a solution to their plight,??he said.

Ahern arrived in Washington on Tuesday. The jet-lagged Irish delegation was woken up shortly after 4am on Wednesday morning by a fire alarm at their hotel that forced the building?? evacuation for about an hour. Ahern?? office has released a statement saying a generator on the roof of the hotel overheated and burned out. The US Secret Service took Bertie Ahern to an undisclosed ??ecure location??until everyone was allowed to return to their rooms.

Ahern is traveling with his daughter Cecelia Ahern, 26, who is one of Ireland?? most popular novelists.

The prime minister is stepping down on Tuesday as a judicial investigation proceeds into secret payments he received from businessmen in the 1990s. He is being replaced the following day by Irish Finance Minister Brian Cowen.

Before making his shock resignation announcement this month, Ahern had faced mounting criticism for his shaky, unconvincing testimony to a decade-old corruption tribunal established by his own government.

Ahern initially claimed that he received cash payments from friends in 1993 and 1994 to help him cope with a 1987 marital separation. But subsequent investigations have indicated that Ahern also received undisclosed payments in British pounds and US dollars, which Ahern denies, and took party funds for his personal benefit.

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