Ahern to discuss 'undocumented Irish' with Rice
The Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern is expected to discuss the plight of the estimated 25,000 undocumented Irish in the United States when he meets with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington DC this week.
Mr Ahern will also meet US Northern Ireland special envoy Mitchell Reiss to brief him on re-establishing the power sharing government in the North, and talks he and Northern Irish Secretary Peter Hain have recently had with the main political parties.
A meeting has also been arranged with Senator Ted Kennedy.
The discussions in Washington DC on Thursday will follow a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York on Wednesday to pledge Ireland's continuing commitment to the UN, in particular the supply of troops to serve as international peace keepers.
Ahead of his trip to the US, Mr Ahern said securing rights for the thousands of Irish people living in America without legal status was of top priority for the Government.
"The concerns of our community in the US, and the particular problems of the undocumented, have the highest priority for the Government.
"Estimates on numbers of undocumented Irish vary. The very nature of their circumstances means that they tend to stay below the radar. A figure close to 25,000 appears reasonable.
"The real issue is not the size of the undocumented community, but is that of the stressful personal experiences: the strain and anxiety of living in the shadows, the sadness of being unable to return to visit Ireland to be with ageing or dying parents, or to attend wakes and funerals - or, indeed, happy family occasions such as weddings," he said.
The Minister said he would be asking for the the Kennedy/McCain bill - an immigration programme which provides for temporary residency and a path to permanent resident status - to be given positive consideration.
He said he hoped the passing in Ireland of an all-party resolution supporting the Kennedy/McCain bill would encourage US legislators to amend the immigration law.
"We know that there is some way to go in the debate and we will continue to support any measures that benefit our community in the US," he said. Mr Ahern said that during his meeting with Ms Rice he would also be stressing the close relationship between Ireland and the US, and the administration's important and supportive role in the Northern Irish peace process.
In addition, he will also be discussing the Middle East peace process and a number of bilateral issues between the two countries.