Ahern’s Capitol Hill starring role is the high point in what is a last sentimental journey to the U.S. before his relinquishing office.
As the Echo goes to press, Mr. Ahern arrived in Washington. He was greeted by Irish Ambassador to the United States Michael Collins with whom the taoiseach will go over his speech one more time before delivery to a joint session of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
Mr. Ahern will meet with President George W Bush following his speech. The two men will get together in the Oval Office for a private meeting.
A White House spokesperson said there would be no press coverage of the moment owing to the personal nature of their meeting.
“This reflects the strong personal ties and warm regards between the two leaders and their countries,” the spokesperson said.
Accompanying Mr. Ahern will be his daughter, Cecelia Ahern. Ms. Ahern is now a best selling author and co-creator of the ABC television show, “Samantha Who?”
The taoiseach’s spokesman said his other daughter, Georgina, was unable to travel because of her two one year old twins.
Mr. Ahern will be welcomed to the Capitol by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at her ceremonial office just off the floor of the House of Representatives. Following Ahern’s speech, there will be a small reception hosted by Speaker Pelosi.
Chairman of the congressional Friends of Ireland group, Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA), will host another reception where Mr. Ahern will present the sword of Civil War general Thomas Francis Meagher as a gift to the Friends.
The speech to the House and Senate looks set to assure a high note exit for Ahern from office. He takes his leave next week when Brian Cowen takes over the top Irish government job.
The speech will also be an opportunity to focus on Ahern as a major player in the Northern Ireland peace process and the government leader who has presided over Ireland’s extraordinary economic advances of the last decade.
And it will help dim the spotlight, at least for a time, on the Mahon Tribunal which has raised questions over Ahern’s personal finances in the years before he became taoiseach.
Upon his departure from Washington, Mr. Ahern will go to Boston. He will be featured at a luncheon hosted by Enterprise Ireland, will drop by the Massachusetts State House to meet with Governor Deval Patrick and finally he will visit the Kennedy Library at Harvard University where he will deliver remarks to invited guests of the library, the Kennedy Foundation, Senator Edward Kennedy and local dignitaries.
“The taoiseach is hugely honored to address Congress and sees it as an honor to the people of Ireland to address both the U.S. Congress and Westminster within the same calendar year,” said Ahern’s spokesman. The taoiseach addressed the British parliament last May.
During his three terms in office, Ahern maintained cordial relations with both President Bush and former President Bill Clinton. Recently, he strongly supported Senator Hillary Clinton’s assessment of her role in helping the peace process in the North while she was First Lady.