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Congress to hear retiring Irish prime minister

Bertie Ahern to be honored for his role in establishing peace in Northern Ireland after decades of violence.
Image: Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, flanked by cabinet members, announced his resignation at the beginning of April.Niall Carson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

When retiring Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern visited the White House on St. Patrick's Day, he was able to declare that peace had been established in Northern Ireland after decades of violence.

Ahern played a pivotal role in that achievement, something he was to be honored for with an address to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday.

Ahern's speech was to be one of the final moments on the international stage for a prime minister who has led Ireland for 11 years but is leaving office amid a corruption scandal.

Ahern was invited two months ago by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., 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 U.S. companies, is facing a challenging period of slowing growth and rising unemployment.

Scandal marred departure
Ahern is stepping down May 6 as a judicial investigation proceeds into secret payments he received from business executives in the 1990s. He is being replaced the following day by Finance Minister Brian Cowen.

Before making his shocking 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 U.S. dollars, which Ahern denies, and also took party funds for his personal benefit.

The prime minister also planned to meet Bush on Wednesday, according to the Irish Embassy.

During his ritual St. Patrick's Day visit to the White House, Ahern credited the U.S. with helping Northern Ireland end nearly three decades of violence. He also said he was "enormously pleased and proud to stand here and say that we've achieved peace in Ireland," Ahern said. "It's a peace that I firmly believe will endure to future generations."

The outlawed Irish Republican Army killed about 1,775 people, including nearly 300 police officers, in a failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. The underground group disarmed and renounced violence in 2005, but has yet to disband.