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Editorial / Periscope - Niall O'Dowd
Editorial : Why Neither Side Wins
March 26, 2008
By Niall O’Dowd
PERHAPS the most disappointing outcome of the current dispute between the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) and the Irish government is the fact that neither side will win in the end. The Irish government certainly will not. There is incontrovertible evidence that they backed a bilateral deal between the U.S. and Ireland on immigration issues despite their current protestations to the contrary.
Indeed, a Lexis Nexis search unearths no fewer than 16 links showing where the government makes clear that it would pursue a bilateral arrangement. Most notably, Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern announced on the front page of The Irish Times after his visit to Washington late last year that it had become a major priority.
Now, of course, the government is backing away from all that and proclaiming that such a deal was never on. The government would have been better off just stating plainly to ILIR that they were no longer interested in pursuing the deal, instead of pretending for several months that they were. Instead, many of their representatives blithely announced to Irish American audiences that they were fully committed to the bilateral push.
The government should also be wary of proclaiming that the extended J-1 visa program that they actually have been pursuing is in any way meaningful for the undocumented. It is not. Indeed, it is a sure-fire way of extending the illegal issue well into the future, as a percentage of those who will come on extended J-1 visas will no doubt overstay.
The dispute is also not good news for ILIR, which had worked in close partnership with the government up to the point of believing that the opportunity for a bilateral deal was a real one.
ILIR is facing questions from its own membership, which is very understandable, as to why they believed the assurances in the first place. We suppose the answer is that when the foreign minister personally announces such a goal is being pursued on the front page of The Irish Times, that represents a commitment.
The issue will not play well with Irish Americans who remember only too well the strained history of the relationship between the government and exile groups for many years.
It took an enormous joint effort to forge the coalition that made the American role in the peace process happen. For decades, successive Irish governments sought to marginalize the work of Irish Americans dedicated to finding a solution to Northern Ireland.
To their eternal credit both Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds decided to play that card very differently. The resultant success of the American role in the process was a credit to all sides.
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern certainly seemed to have figured out the Irish American card too until the recent faux pas when he accused Irish American immigration reform leaders of spending too much time in bars because they believed a bilateral deal was in the process of being discussed.
Those are remarkable comments the more one looks at them, and may well relate to the increased pressure Ahern is feeling as his political prospects in Ireland become enmeshed in the continuing allegations of financial improprieties. Certainly the sure-footed Ahern of old would never have blundered in such a manner.
The question remains whether something can be salvaged from this right old mess as the months tick by and immigration reform has suddenly become a more desirable topic once again as all three presidential candidates are committed to it.
It is clear that both parties need each other if they are to succeed. ILIR’s request to meet with the taoiseach during his April visit to address a joint session of Congress seems a good starting point to begin discussions anew. Let’s hope the meeting is made possible.
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