Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Never a dull moment for Bertie

Ahern evacuated in Washington fire alert

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has returned to his hotel in Washington after he and his official party were evacuated for a time 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.

Mr Bird says the whole party is somewhat shaken by the experience.

At 4pm Irish time, the Taoiseach, will deliver an address to a joint meeting of the US Houses of Congress.

Click here for details of special coverage and a look back at previous addresses to US Congress by Irish leaders

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

His speech is expected to make reference to US assistance in achieving peace. He is also expected to refer to the unresolved issue of illegal Irish in the US.

Mr Ahern will become the sixth political leader from the State and the first Fianna Fáil Taoiseach to give such an address.

He will also meet US President George W Bush at the White House.

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

When Mr Ahern finishes his speech, Ireland will 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 be hosted at a special lunch by the Congressional Friends of Ireland before travelling to the White House for a private meeting with Mr Bush.

copyright RTE News, 2008

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