US Congressman Richard Neal has called on US president Donald Trump to appoint a special envoy for Northern Ireland ahead of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s visit to Washington next week.
Speaking ahead of a week-long programme of St Patrick’s Day events, the Massachusetts congressman said that since the appointment of former senator George Mitchell in 1995, six individuals have held the position.
“On both sides of the Atlantic, there is little debate that each special envoy has played an indispensable role in the negotiation and implementation of several peace accords, and have helped to strengthen ties between the United States and Ireland,” he said, adding that their appointments have signalled “continued American interest in the region and ongoing support for the peace process.”
He said there could not be a more appropriate time for Mr Trump to name a new special envoy “as we prepare for the last official visit of Taoiseach Enda Kenny to Washington DC, contemplate the ramifications that Brexit will have on the island of Ireland, and digest the results of the recent elections in the north”.
Mr Neal is the co-chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland in the US Congress, and has been a leading figure in US-Irish politics.
The Taoiseach arrives in the United States on Saturday for a week-long visit to mark St Patrick’s Day. He will visit Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC and New York and meet with senior Irish-American congressmen and senators from the Republican and Democratic Party.
Meanwhile the Ireland Funds has announced it is to donate $100,000 (€95,000) to immigration centres across the United States in a bid to support Irish immigrants concerned about the shift in US immigration policy under president Trump.
The grant will be given directly to the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres, an umbrella group for immigration centres in the United States. Among the services that will be funded by the donation will be child care, living costs, medical services and the provision of legal advice to families who use the centres.
Announcing the funding, Ireland Funds chairman John Fitzpatrick said it was a “privilege to support those members of our community at time of increased need”.
“While the immigration debate continues at a political level, we want to provide practical help to those who could be most affected,” he said.
Concern has been growing among undocumented Irish immigrants living in the United States about the impact of Mr Trump’s pledge to clamp down on illegal immigration into the country.
Dozens of undocumented immigrants, many of whom had been residing in the country for decades, have been deported in recent weeks as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials redouble efforts to detain illegal immigrants.
Aileen Dibra, National Co-ordinator of the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres, said the Ireland Funds grant will allow “much needed direct support and urgent relief to members our community” in these uncertain times.
Ireland Funds’ chief executive Kieran McLoughlin said “it is only right that we should provide direct help at this time when they are feeling such pressure and concern”.
Established in 1976, the Ireland Funds is a philanthropic network which supports projects across Ireland and Irish-related causes around the world. The organisation has raised over $550 million to date.
The status of the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the United States is likely to dominate discussion between the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the US president and officials next week in Washington.
Mr Kenny, who is due to meet President Trump during the annual visit by the Taoiseach to the White House next Thursday has yet to confirm if he plans to invite the US president to visit Ireland.