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Irish Leaders, North Pols for U.S.

By Debbie McGoldrick

IRISH government ministers led by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern will fan out across the U.S. to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Ahern will be the guest of honor at the annual shamrock ceremony at the White House on the morning of March 17. He will also meet privately with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office to discuss the Northern Irish peace process and — what Ahern aides said is top of this year’s agenda — the legalization of the estimated 40,000 undocumented Irish residents of the U.S.

In a departure from last year’s White House St. Patrick’s ceremonies, the leaders of the North’s political parties, including Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, will be invited to a St. Patrick’s morning reception with Bush and members of the Irish American community.

Northern political representatives were excluded by the Bush administration last year due to fallout over the 2004 pre-Christmas robbery at the Northern Bank in Belfast blamed on the IRA, and the January murder of Robert McCartney in a bar brawl also allegedly committed by IRA members.

McCartney’s sisters and fiancée were invited guests at last year’s White House reception, where they made a personal plea to Bush to help bring those who killed their brother to justice.

McCartney family representatives have been invited back for this year’s reception. They will be joined by another Irish family, the Dublin-based Raffertys, who have also waged a high-profile campaign on allegations that their brother Joseph was slain by IRA members last year.

This year’s White House reception will also include officials from the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), Irish American members of the GOP from across the U.S., and members of Congress.

Ahern will be accompanied on his U.S. trip by Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern; the two will host meetings in San Jose, California before traveling to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, March 15.

After arrival in Washington they will proceed to a St. Patrick’s reception hosted by Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Noel Fahey. Prior to the event, Ahern will have a private meeting with ILIR founder and Chairman Niall O’Dowd, ILIR President Grant Lally and Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers in the U.S. Chairman Bart Murphy to discuss issues concerning the Irish undocumented in the U.S.

Thursday, March 16, sees a full slate of political meetings for the Irish leaders. The day starts with a 9 a.m. meeting with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, co-author with Democratic colleague Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts of the Irish government-endorsed Kennedy/McCain immigration bill which offers a path to legalization for the undocumented.

The taoiseach will also meet with the Friends of Ireland group in Congress, and Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware), Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York), Senator Chris Dodd, Senator Kennedy. He will also receive a delegation from the North American Economic Advisory Board.

On the afternoon of the 16th, the taoiseach will be guest of honor at the St. Patrick’s luncheon hosted by the House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Capitol Hill. In the evening, he will deliver remarks at the annual St. Patrick’s eve dinner hosted by the American Ireland Fund in Washington, D.C.

The St. Patrick’s Day program for the Aherns will consist of a morning meeting with Bush and the subsequent shamrock ceremony, followed by a brief White House reception hosted by President and First Lady Laura Bush. At the meeting, the Irish leaders promised to make the plight of the undocumented Irish in the U.S. top of their agenda.

Just after noontime, the Irish delegation departs Washington, D.C. for Dublin. However, several Irish ministers will remain in various cities throughout the U.S.

In New York, Transport Minister Martin Cullen will represent the Irish government at a number of events, including the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Fifth Avenue and the annual Top 100 Irish American Awards dinner hosted by Irish America magazine, sister publication to the Irish Voice.

Cullen will also officiate at ceremonies marking the further expansion of the New York Irish Center in Long Island City, Queens, presided over by founder Father Colm Campbell, and various other events intended to promote Irish business and cultural interests in the U.S.

Boston will host Minister for Social Affairs Seamus Brennan, Communications Minister Noel Dempsey will spend the holiday in Seattle, and Minister of State Michael Ahern will visit Chicago.

Savannah, Georgia, host of one of the largest St. Patrick’s parades in the U.S., will host Minister of State Noel Ahern. Ministers of State Pat Gallagher, Batt O’Keeffe and Tom Paron will visit Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Louis, respectively.

“In deciding on ministerial travel commitments for St. Patrick’s Day, the government has sought to maximize opportunities for showcasing Ireland as a world class economy and tourism destination,” a press release from the Irish government stated.

“Ministers traveling over the period will promote Ireland at business, cultural and community events in more than 35 cities in all corners of the world.”

Irish ministers will also visit the U.K, Vienna, China, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia to mark the holiday.




 © IrishAbroad.com 2009