President Bush says the United States stands with the people of Northern Ireland as they build on the peace process that has ended decades of sectarian violence. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports he spoke at a White House celebration of St. Patrick's Day - the Irish national holiday.

An Irish tenor filled the White House with the melodies of his homeland on this St. Patrick's Day.

The historic East Room was filled for the occasion. For on this holiday, it seems every American is just a little bit Irish.

It is said that roughly 35 million Americans can trace their heritage back to Ireland. And over the years, St. Patrick's Day has become a time to honor those shared ties.

In an act steeped in tradition, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern presented President Bush with a crystal bowl of shamrocks - the three-leafed clover that is the symbol of Ireland.

"In a world of change where little remains constant, I believe the United States and Ireland will always enjoy an indelible bond shaped by the legacy of countless immigrants who built and cherished their new home but never forgot the land of their ancestors," said Ahern.

Also present at the ceremony were political and civic leaders from Northern Ireland, where a peace process has taken hold ending decades of sectarian violence.

Prime Minister Ahern said he could finally come to Washington for St. Patrick's Day and say the Irish are totally at peace.

"I hope that Ireland can now begin to share the lessons of our peace efforts with others in the world who suffer the pain and loss of conflicts and division," he said.

President Bush voiced his support for efforts to improve the economy of Northern Ireland, saying the country has put behind a painful past and is reaching for a hopeful future. He announced he would send a high-level delegation to an investment conference that will take place in May.

"Obviously, the United States needs to help and we will," said President Bush. "But nothing will happen without clear conviction and determination by the folks who live in Northern Ireland."

Before the ceremony, President Bush and Prime Minister Ahern held private talks at the White House. Later in the day, they attended a St. Patrick's Day luncheon hosted by leaders of the U.S. Congress.