Taoiseach signals new campaign on illegals

 

THE TAOISEACH, Brian Cowen, yesterday signalled that the Government would be launching a new drive to resolve the issue of the undocumented Irish in the US.

The plight of undocumented Irish people has been an issue for successive Irish governments over many decades. The liberal quota traditionally allocated to Ireland by the US was severely curtailed in 1965 but the Irish government of the day chose not to lobby against the American decision at the time.

More recently, joint legislative proposals from Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain offered hope that a resolution could be found.

Relations between immigration activists, notably the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), and the administration led by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern finished on a sour note with allegations that the then government was not lobbying with sufficient vigour for a bilateral arrangement between the two countries.

However, after an hour-long meeting with Mr Cowen, ILIR spokesman Ciaran Staunton expressed confidence that a new era in relations with Dublin had begun. "There is no comparison," he said. "Brian Cowen fully understands the issues." He recalled that Mr Cowen as minister for foreign affairs was responsible for setting up a task force on the diaspora and had subsequently established the Irish Abroad unit in the department, charged with looking after the welfare of Irish citizens overseas.

Speaking to a gathering of several hundred at the Irish Consulate on New York's Park Avenue, Mr Cowen said Irish immigration to the US was "an issue that will be a priority for me" in the coming months and years. He also referred to the need for a strategic review of this entire area.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Cowen said that although the number of undocumented Irish in the US was smaller than other ethnic groups, "we always have to remember that behind those statistics there's a human story in each individual case".

As a constituency TD he was particulary aware of "some very difficult situations that people find themselves in".

Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Martin would be in the US in September, he said, adding: "He'll be lobbying on the Hill (Capitol Hill) on this issue. It's a priority for our administration to try and sort this out.

"The relationship between Ireland and America should be sufficiently strong to accommodate a solution here. What I am aware of is that in an election year this is an area of policy that everyone's steering clear of at the moment.

"We have a responsibility to continue to lobby and do so as effectively as we possibly can. . . "

He said the the Government was prepared to look at a "reciprocal" visa arrangement with the US. "We can perhaps be more proactive on our side in making sure that more Americans, particularly young people who want to come and visit and work in Ireland, that they get the chance to do so as well."

Cowen welcomes €35m investment

THE TAOISEACH welcomed a €35 million e-banking investment announced yesterday by financial services firm Citi at its Irish operation.

The investment, supported by IDA Ireland, will lead to the creation of 30 jobs.

Speaking from the company's headquarters in New York, Mr Cowen said the company has "made an outstanding contribution to the economy over the years".