President meets Norwegian royal couple and PM on first day of visit


PRESIDENT MARY McAleese met the Norwegian king, queen and prime minister on the first day of her state visit to Norway yesterday.

Mrs McAleese and Prime Minster Jens Stoltenberg discussed Ireland and Norway's shared need to support developing nations during their meeting on the first day of Mrs McAleese's three-day visit.

The Norwegian government increased its overseas development assistance commitment to 1 per cent of GDP in its recent budget, Mr Stoltenberg told the President yesterday in Oslo.

In addition to the global financial crisis, they spoke about conflict resolution and the possibility of Ireland and Norway working more closely together in that area. They also discussed the issue of cluster munitions.

The President emphasised the importance "of being patient and hopeful" and of having "safety nets" in relation to conflict resolution, adding that the peace process in Northern Ireland, which Norway contributed to, is still continuing.

Mrs McAleese received a colourful ceremonial welcome yesterday morning from King Harald and Queen Sonja under a cloudless blue sky and dazzling sunshine.

While greeting well-wishers from the local Irish community, the President joked that she had "brought the Irish weather with her". There were 520 king's guards present for the ceremony in the grounds of the Royal Palace where Mrs McAleese will stay as guest of the royal household until Thursday.

Mrs McAleese fulfilled seven engagements yesterday including the laying of a wreath at the National Monument at Akershus Castle where Norway's oldest Irish citizen turned up in support.

Originally from Co Tipperary, Shirley Bottolfson lives in the southern Arctic region of Norway, and has become well known throughout the country due to a television documentary broadcast about her charity work. "I'm almost 73, and am 52 years in Norway," Ms Bottolfson said.

This morning Enterprise Ireland will host a business breakfast for the President and 150 guests. Later today Mrs McAleese will deliver a speech at the Nobel Institute.

The President is accompanied by her husband Dr Martin McAleese and Minister of State for Food and Horticulture Trevor Sargent. The delegation will travel to Trondheim, Norway's third-largest city, on Thursday to attend a seminar on renewable energy.