Australian PM Howard begins 2-day trip to Ireland

Australian Prime Minister John Howard began a two-day visit Monday to Ireland by praising the decade-long economic boom in this long-stagnant country.

"The Irish economy has progressed very dramatically over the last 10 or 15 years. Some of that has no doubt been due to the subsidies of the European Union, but a lot has been due to the energy and inventiveness of the Irish people," Howard said before a series of engagements, which included a visit to University College Dublin and a luncheon speech to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.

Howard said he wanted to increase cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the fields of health care and computer technology. Ireland has become a favored location for high-tech multinationals, particularly in computer software and pharmaceuticals, seeking a base within the 25-nation European Union.

On Tuesday, Howard, the first Australian prime minister to visit Ireland since Paul Keating in 1993, is scheduled to address Dail Eireann, the Irish parliament.

The Irish visit comes at the end of a two-week tour of the United States and Canada, reports the AP.