THE Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) has expressed deep disappointment in Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern’s comments in Washington, D.C. on St. Patrick’s Day, where he said that the quest for “amnesty” for the undocumented Irish would not succeed.
In controversial remarks, Ahern also claimed that uninformed people were giving the wrong impression regarding a solution to the situation.
“These people should stop that because they are not on the inside. They really are talking from a position of sitting in the bar and talking nonsense,” he said.
Ahern, who met with President George W. Bush at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day, told reporters that seeking “amnesty” solely for the undocumented Irish living in the U.S. was “not on,” and that such people would be required to return to Ireland before lodging a new U.S. visa application.
Ahern, who told reporters he wanted to be “honest” about these issues said, “I don’t want to be gilding the lily. There are 12 million people here illegally. We came very close to a bill with McCain and Kennedy. It wasn’t possible to deliver. The concept of an amnesty, wiping the sheet clean, is just not on.
“People shouldn’t be trying to give an impression that something that isn’t on, might be on. It’s no good saying that. I’ve talked to all the people involved in it.”
ILIR Chairman Niall O’ Dowd said on Tuesday that he was disappointed by Ahern’s remarks, adding that the taoiseach was “totally misinformed.”
“We have never sought an amnesty for the Irish. What we have sought is a possible bilateral deal between Ireland and the U.S. like bilateral deals which have been achieved by Australia, Singapore and Chile to name but three in recent years,” said O’Dowd.
“We don’t see why Ireland, the taoiseach and the Irish government couldn’t’ push very hard for the same deal,” he added.
O’Dowd explained that ILIR had submitted a proposal to the Irish government to takes steps towards dealing with the issue in the form of a bilateral agreement. O’Dowd said the Irish government agreed to discuss the proposal with relevant U.S. officials but have not yet done so.
“We have been told by senior figures on Capitol Hill that the proposal was not put forward,” he said.
O’Dowd asked if the Irish government any “clout” in the United States, or is it just “St. Patrick’s Day airy fairy stuff that gives bowls of shamrocks and comes home happy with a pat on the head.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Irish-based Family and Friends Support group for the undocumented also expressed her disappointment.
“Mr. Ahern has stereotyped my sister, her husband, and all the other undocumented Irish in the U.S.,” said Kate Hickey, the head of the group.
“My sister was really depending on the Irish government to help. She has been in the U.S. for 12 years now and we were pinning our hopes on the Irish government. The comments yesterday seem to suggest that the taoiseach is walking away from us.
“My phone has been hopping all day with people calling to see what they can do.”
Irish politicians in Ireland also expressed their disappointment at Ahern’s quick dismissal of the subject. Fine Gael’s Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Michael Ring said Ahern was “washing his hands” of the estimated 50,000 Irish undocumented in the U.S.
“It is unacceptable to tell them they have to return home,” he said.
“Many have been living in the U.S. for years, and it is not feasible for them to come back to Ireland to apply for a visa which they may not even get.”
In the North, SDLP East Derry Assembly member John Dallat accused Ahern of giving up on the undocumented.
“The taoiseach is in a very powerful position to influence opinion on Capitol Hill and I am astounded that he has thrown in the towel,” Dallat said.
He added that several of the undocumented fled Northern Ireland during the Troubles. But Dallat prefers to give Ahern another chance to make the situation right.
“Perhaps on reflection Ahern will accept that there is a case for thousands of Irish people who have made their homes in the U.S., and he has an important role in resolving it,” Dallat added.
Ahern is now working on a visa deal for 2009 or later that would only be available to people between the ages of 18 and 35 from both the U.S. and Ireland.
The visas, however, would only be available for 15 months with only one opportunity for renewal. Irish undocumented in the U.S. would need to travel back to Ireland to apply for them, with no guarantee of success.