Move Beyond Reform, Irish Pols Are Told

Move beyond reform, Irish pols are told

By Ray O'Hanlon
The Irish Echo, February 11, 2009

Irish politicians from all parties have been told that a way has to be found to allow a regular flow of Irish immigrants to the United States, this for the first time since the 1960s.

Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform vice chairman, Ciaran Staunton, met with more than 35 TDs and senators in Leinster House, Dublin late last week and urged them not just to back comprehensive immigration reform efforts in the U.S., but also to work for a bilateral visa deal between Ireland and the United States, one that would allow for more regular movement of citizens from both countries.

The meeting came in the same week that leading San Francisco-based reform campaigner, Bart Murphy, called for a bilateral deal between Dublin and Washington along the lines of an existing visa treaty between the U.S. and Australia.

'There was great concern shown,' Staunton said of the meeting in a phone interview Tuesday. The Mayo native was still in Ireland and was lining up more meetings with political leaders before returning to New York.

Staunton said that he had told the Irish politicians that the road to Washington, for both the undocumented Irish and those Irish who would try to make America their home in the future, was first through Dublin.

He said he had impressed on the gathering, which was convened by TD John Cregan, chair of a special Oireachtas committee dedicated to addressing the plight of the undocumented Irish in America, that Ireland had many friends in Washington at the present time but there was no way of telling what kind or degree of access the Irish would have in Washington in future years.

'I told them that it was time to get back to the Morrison bilateral plan of two years ago and get on with it,' said Staunton, referring to a report drawn up by former Congressman Bruce Morrison that recommends a deal between Ireland and the U.S. along the lines of the E3 visa scheme operated by Canberra and Washington.

'I stressed there was a need for something above and beyond comprehensive immigration reform, that there was a need for reform but also a pathway for a future legal flow,' said Staunton.

Without such a pathway, and even if there was immigration reform, it would only mean having to address the undocumented issue once again in five years or so.

Staunton said he had told the politicians that there was an urgent need for action before even St. Patrick's Day 'when they gallop in and gallop out' of the U.S.

'I said the Irish need to step it up, go and ask in Washington and state that we need help on immigration,' Staunton said.

Staunton said that instead of action there was a 'fair bit of hand-wringing at the moment.'

'I said don't wait for Washington to act, you need to act and that there was a need for more than a band aid at this stage,' he added.

Staunton said he had told the politicians during the one-and-a-half hour meeting that there was no plan right now to deal with a future flow of people from Ireland to the U.S.

'I said that we would welcome any step forward but that right now we are stagnant,' he said.