- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

The American Ireland Fund transformed the National Building Museum into “a little bit of heaven” for its 14th annual dinner Thursday night honoring Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Susan Collins and local businessman John J. McDonnell for furthering the peace process in Ireland.

MSNBC “Hardball” anchor Chris Matthews and his wife, local ABC News anchor Kathleen Matthews, introduced AIF President Kingsley Aikins, who reminded guests that the AIF has raised more than $250 million to support 1,000 Irish charities over the years, including $750,000 this year.

Also on hand was Irish An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern, observing that his now economically thriving country has produced “a new generation of Irish who have come to America … by choice. We hope that a path may be found to enable them to legalize their status so that they can participate fully in the life here.” (Mr. Ahern said that he planned to pursue the subject of U.S. immigration policy during his visit.)

“If Joe Biden runs for president, he will make his family proud,” Mr. Matthews quipped before presenting the Delaware Democrat with the Distinguished Leadership Award. With 16 family members present, Mr. Biden turned his acceptance speech into a family tribute, saying: “My mother made me and countless others believe in themselves.” Mrs. Collins, a Maine Republican with Irish-born great-grandparents, also was honored.

Mr. McDonnell, who received the 2006 Irish Peace and Culture Award, said he had been greatly influenced by the violent period of “The Troubles” and its effect on teenagers in Northern Ireland. “Each journey begins with a single step,” and “integrated schools are the beginning of a new beginning,” he said.

Among the guests were Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, Irish Ambassador Noel Fahey, and British Ambassador Sir David Manning and Lady Manning.

— Jennifer Crier Johnston

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