McAleese begins Spain visit


President Mary McAleese travels to Spain today for a three-day official visit that includes meetings with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and other dignitaries.

Áras an Uachtaráin said the Madrid and Barcelona trip would focus on consolidating the strong relationship between Ireland and Spain, focusing on economic, trade and educational links.

Ms McAleese will be accompanied by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

The itinerary begins tomorrow when the President will deliver an address on the Irish economy at the Nueva Economic Forum in Madrid.

Ms McAleese will then be guest of honour at a special lunch hosted by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, before receiving the Gold Key of Madrid from the Mayor and attending an Irish community reception.

It will feature a joint performance by acclaimed Galician piper Carlos Nunez and Irish traditional musicians.

On Tuesday, the President will take part in a number of high-level bilateral meetings with Mr Zapatero and the President of the Congress of Deputies.

That evening, Ms McAleese will receive the Medal of Honour of the University of Alcala de Henares and attend the inauguration of their new Irish Studies programme launched in conjunction with NUI Maynooth.

Other events that day include taking a class in Irish food hosted by An Bord Bia and conducted by the Spanish chef Mario Sandoval.

On the final day of the trip, the President will visit La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, a Unesco World Heritage site. She will also hold talks with the president of the Catalunya government Artur Mas and address an Enterprise Ireland pharmaceutical workshop.

Before returning to Dublin, she will meet members of the Irish community in Barcelona at a reception in City Hall hosted by Mayor Jordi Hereu.