Irish President McAleese arrives in Ankara for Landmark visit

Irish President Mary McAleese yesterday arrived in Ankara for a landmark official visit, the first of its kind, at the invitation of her Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, who welcomed McAleese with full military honors at the Cankaya Presidential Palace. The two presidents' spouses, Martin McAleese and Hayrunnisa Gul, were also present at the official welcoming ceremony. In a face-to-face meeting, Gul and McAleese chaired an interdelegational meeting as well. Speaking at a joint press conference afterwards, McAleese said Ireland has always supported Turkey's EU accession bid. Expressing pleasure at being the first Irish president to visit Turkey, McAleese thanked Gul for giving her a warm welcome. Stating that Turkey and Ireland have strong historic ties despite the geographical distance between them, McAleese said, "We remember very well how the Ottoman Empire lent a helping hand to our people during the Great Hunger. The Ottoman sultan sent three ships, full of foodstuff, to Irish ports in Drogheda. The Irish people never forgot this unique generosity. The symbols in the Turkish flag, the crescent and the star, have become symbols of the region. Moreover, we see the Turkish symbols on the uniforms of the Drogheda United soccer team. If you visited Drogheda next Saturday, you might think that the Turkish National Soccer Team was about to play. All these are small signs that show how the Irish people see Turkey, as well as highlight the importance we place on our relations with the Turkish people." Stating that gaining European Union membership requires a difficult integration process, McAleese added that it is worth it. Turkey and Ireland enjoy good political relations, she said, calling for better trade ties between the two countries. Nearly 120,000 Irish tourists visit Turkey very year and some of them buy property in the country, strengthening their ties with Turkey, she said. "The closer our countries grow in education, the more people will understand each other. Turkey has a good education system," she said, adding that they would welcome Turkish students studying in Ireland. Asked about the Armenian allegations, McAleese said Ireland knows to steer clear of the debate. "Ireland supports all measures that will encourage friendship," she said. For his part, Gul underlined Turkey's strong desire to improve ties with Ireland. Stressing the importance of improving bilateral economic and commercial ties, Gul added, "I believe President McAleese's visit will make a valuable contribution to efforts to boost our economic relations. The Turkish-Irish trade volume currently stands at around €1 billion. But we have a great potential to increase it. We invite Irish businessmen to make more investments in Turkey." The visiting Irish president also met with Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Sahin and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During their meeting, Erdogan presented a replica of a map of Ireland drawn by Ottoman sea captain Ali Macar Reis on animal skin.