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The 2006  Irish Agenda

THERE are two dominating issues in the activist Irish American political sphere over the next 12 months. The first is immigration reform, the second the restoration of accountable government in Northern Ireland.

We will know by the end of January where the immigration debate is going. President George W. Bush will discuss the issue in his State of the Union address on January 31, and the Senate is expected to take up debate on the matter a few days later.

To say this is a critical issue for Irish America is no exaggeration. At stake is not just the future of tens of thousands of young Irish who are here undocumented, but also the very survival of the Irish community ethos in major cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.

Already organizations such as the GAA have begun to feel the pinch of the restrictive immigration laws. This year, no doubt, more teams will be in danger of folding as the number of players from Ireland continues to drop.

It is only a matter of time before many other Irish organizations begin to show the strain of the new laws which make it next to impossible for young Irish to emigrate or to regularize their status.

Emigration in each generation has been the lifeblood of Irish communities everywhere in the U.S. The influx of the 1980s created a spectacular ripple effect right across the U.S. on Irish communities everywhere, and for a time the communities flourished as new blood replenished many older organizations.

Now we are in danger of seeing that advance fade away forever. The immigration laws at present are bad enough, but a new immigration bill like the one passed in the House before Christmas may well add a whole new set of strict conditions.

That is why the Irish must find a voice at the table. We have championed the new organization, the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), in these pages over the past few weeks.

We urge all community activists from California to the East Coast to get involved in the fight for fair immigration reform, which so many did so splendidly in the 1980s.

The other issue, of course, is Northern Ireland, and here again the American influence is critical.

There are no great figures such as President Bill Clinton or Senator George Mitchell involved any more, but there is no question that the current Bush envoy Mitchell Reiss has a deep and abiding interest in the issue, which is encouraging.

But it is disheartening to see in recent times that Reiss has been so willing to take the British government analysis of the situation, especially as it affects policing.

The fact is that as the recent Stormontgate debacle clearly shows, the British have, by and large, been the instigators of many of the problems that have bedeviled the peace process.

It now seems incredible but true that the British security apparatus took down the freely elected Northern Ireland Assembly by creating a bogus spy ring headed by one of their informers, Denis Donaldson.

We have heard precious little from Reiss on this topic as he seems obsessed more with the issue of Nationalists signing off on policing than any other part of the process.

Acceptable policing is a worthy goal, but it must be evident now that Reiss is seen more firmly as being in the anti-Nationalist camp than he should be.

The letter in this issue from the heads of Irish organizations in America (opposite page) is an effective and direct way of showing where Irish American concerns must lie. The impact must be felt too in the outworking of the Bush administration policy on Ireland this year.



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