Both sides have much to gain from a smoother relationship. As the Irish government
proved last week by securing the Joint Session of Congress address for outgoing
Taoiseach (Prime Minster) Bertie Ahern, they are in a powerful position to argue
Ireland’s case and to deliver on Capitol Hill.
Indeed, the presence of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the ambassador’s residence
after the event was as clear an indication as any of the clout that the government
can muster. Pelosi is notoriously averse to attending such gatherings.
ILIR, on the other hand, offers the grassroots drive and organizational support
that makes the case plain to politicians that there is a domestic and political
factor in the Irish lobbying. In 2007 ILIR organized thousands of supporters on
Capitol Hill visits that were the talk of the town there.
When the government and Irish grassroots work together the results can be spectacular,
as was proven with Morrison and Donnelly visa programs and, indeed, the peace
process in America.
Lately, however, there have been difficulties and tensions between the two sides
that hopefully are now resolved after last week’s meeting.
The dispute between the two sides relates to whether or not the Irish government
sufficiently pursued the bilateral deal on immigration put forward by ILIR and
agreed to by the Irish government. There is no point, however, in continuing that
argument any further.
The bilateral would give Ireland an estimated 10,000 or so working visas for the
U.S. every year. The Australian government successfully negotiated it, while other
countries have received variations of the deal.
The naysayers and prophets of doom on immigration have proclaimed that there will
be no further action on immigration issues for a very long time, but that ignores
the reality of the American system.
Yes, it seems increasingly unlikely that the massive omnibus immigration reform
bill that went down to defeat twice will ever be resuscitated again, but there
is bound to be a concerted effort in the new Congress, if not before, to bite
off chunks of immigration legislation, especially where Hispanic and business
groups are concerned.
So the Irish must be aware of the game and the practical reality of keeping a
very close eye on events surrounding this issue.
The sad reality is that if the Irish lobby and the Irish government split on the
approach to this issue it may never be resolved in Ireland’s favor.
There is a long history of Irish governments and Irish American organizations
battling each other on issues such as Northern Ireland policy to the point of
damaging the overall push for resolution. We can only hope that immigration reform
will not suffer that fate.
Having both sides work together will be a powerful boost to the chances of the
Irish securing a long-term deal that will help redress the injustice of the 1965
Immigration and Nationality Act which effectively blocked the Irish from coming
to America legally in all but a small trickle of numbers.
Last week’s meeting in Washington was a good faith indicator that both sides
want a fresh start and to work together. There seems little doubt that can be