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Outgoing Irish PM Praises US for its Role in Ulster Peace


Ireland's Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, saying peace in Northern Ireland will never be reversed and praising the United States for its role. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

Mr. Ahern's address came just one week before he steps down amid pressure from a long-running corruption probe involving his financial dealings.

But he used his speech to American lawmakers to underscore the success of the Northern Ireland peace process, which ended decades of armed conflict between Catholics and Protestants that left some 3,500 people dead, with a U.S.-brokered agreement in 1998.

"Today both sides proud of their history and confident of their identity, can come together in peace and part in harmony," he said. "They can offer each other the open hand of friendship. They will reaffirm again what Ireland has achieved and what we know in our hearts to be true. Centuries of war and strife and struggle are over and over for good."

In addition to his role in the peace process, which led to the establishment last year of a Catholic-Protestant government in Belfast, Prime Minister Ahern is also credited with helping Ireland achieve a period of economic revival.

Last month Ahern announced he would step down on May 6, saying a long-running investigation into alleged financial irregularities was making it difficult for him to lead. He has denied any wrongdoing.

In focusing on Ireland's economic successes and U.S.-Irish friendship, he raised the question of illegal Irish immigrants seeking to remain in the United States.

"We ask you to consider the case of our undocumented Irish immigrant community in the U.S. today. We hope you will be able to find a solution to their plight that would enable them to regularize their status and open them to a path to permanent residency," he said.

Some of the longest applause came as Ahern paid tribute to those who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, including Mychal Judge, a Roman Catholic priest and Chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, who was the first officially recorded victim.

"He was just a simple man of faith, of courage, trying to help others. In recognition of the bravery of all who died on that terrible day, I am deeply honored to be joined here today by some of Father Mike's comrades from the New York Fire Department and New York Police Department," Ahern said.

Prime Minister Ahern also called on Irish voters to support, in a referendum in May, a new European Union treaty.

And he urged all nations to work for respect of democracy and human rights, while facing challenges including rising food and energy prices, climate change and poverty, terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

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