Taoiseach tells US 'Ireland is at peace'

Thursday 01 May 2008 14.02
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Bertie Ahern - Joint meeting of Congress
Bertie Ahern - Joint meeting of Congress
Bertie Ahern - Historic speech
Bertie Ahern - Historic speech
US Congress - Standing ovation
US Congress - Standing ovation
Bird & Ahern - Washington hotel evacuated - (Photo: David Conachy)
Bird & Ahern - Washington hotel evacuated - (Photo: David Conachy)

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has told a joint meeting of the US Congress in Washington of his pride at being the first Irish leader to tell America that 'Ireland is at peace'.

Watch, Listen or Read An Taoiseach's complete address

In his address on Capitol Hill, Mr Ahern traced the historic links and shared experience that linked Ireland and the US through the centuries. 'Since the 17th and 18th century the Irish had helped to build America.'

Stressing these ties, he asked Congress to try and find a solution and open the path to permanent residency for the undocumented Irish in the US.

He implored those assembled to 'address the implications and to regulate the status' for illegal Irish immigrants.

The Taoiseach referred to the struggle for success immigrants from Ireland to the US had endured and the fact that America was always their 'destiny'.

Referring to the importance of global citizenship, he stressed the role Europe and the US must play together to combat the international financial crisis, global warming, terrorism and climate change.

On the Middle East peace process, he said 'we must succeed in international collective efforts to bring peace for the people of Israel and Palestine.'

Mr Ahern said he always had faith in the Good Friday Agreement and thanked President George W Bush and his administration for their help, and in particular Senator George Mitchell for the role he played.

He said that peace in Northern Ireland was also part of a greater US legacy thanks to the support America gave throughout the peace process.

He reminded US citizens not to forget that and to 'feel glad' for what role their country had played.

Referring to his forthcoming trip to the site of the Battle of the Boyne, he said centuries of strife were over for good and that 'our children will now live in peace'.

'This is the triumph of people and politics, of democracy. The great achievement of Ireland and of democracy.'

Look back at previous addresses to Congress by Irish leaders

Honour

Bertie Ahern today became the sixth Irish leader the first Fianna Fáil Taoiseach to give such an address.

The invitation was issued by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in recognition of his work on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Delivering an address to a Joint Meeting of Congress is considered a high honour and pushed Ireland and Mr Ahern into Washington's political limelight.

Ireland has now become one of just six nations whose leaders have spoken before Congress six times or more.

Several of the Taoiseach's close friends and associates have also made the trip to Washington.

After his address, Mr Ahern will attend a special lunch hosted by the Congressional Friends of Ireland before travelling to the White House for a private meeting with US president George W Bush.

Overnight alert

Mr Ahern and his entourage had to leave their hotel for a short time overnight because of a fire alert.

RTÉ's Chief News Correspondent Charlie Bird says Mr Ahern was awoken by the US Secret Service at 4.20am (9.20am Irish time) and told they believed there was a fire in a generator a floor above him.

Mr Ahern said that everybody walked down the stairs in an orderly fashion without any panic.

He said there was a strong smell of smoke in the roof of the Renaissance Mayflower hotel just above him.

The whole party is understood to have been somewhat shaken by the experience.

The Taoiseach and hotel patrons returned to their rooms some time later.