“there are illegal people, Irish people here.”

The Republic of Ireland’s Foreign Affairs minister, Dermot Ahern, is currently in the US and he’s chosen to revisit an issue which, by all accounts, had been sidelined for the forseeable future – as this Irish Voice article puts it, “comprehensive immigration reform has been put on the backburner by Congress”. But Denis Staunton in the Irish Times [subs req] has some interesting comments from the minister which suggest that he believes the illiegal Irish immigrants in the US is all our [the north’s] fault – rather than the economic policies of previous administrations.

“In the context of the development of the all-island economy, I instanced the fact that a lot of people from Ireland, because of unemployment in yesteryear, unemployment created by the conflict, people specifically because of the conflict would have left Ireland and Northern Ireland and the Border areas. I indicated strongly to her that I felt that in the context of the evolving assistance that the UK government are giving, the American government are giving and ourselves, that this is an issue that is on the agenda and it should be looked at in that context. And obviously we’re going to investigate those possibilities,” he said.

No doubt there is a proportion of illegal immigrants who left the island as a result of those circumstances.. but I’d like to see some figures to back up his argument.

Denis Staunton does, however, highlight the problem of claims for special status

Some Irish-American congressmen are privately optimistic about a special immigration deal for the Irish, which would be linked to economic co-operation between the US and Ireland as well as to the legacy of the Troubles in the North.

Others are more cautious, fearing that any amnesty for Irish illegal immigrants could anger both anti-immigration conservatives and the Hispanic community, which accounts for most immigration to the US.

There also appears to be some confusion in Dermot Ahern’s comments about whether the new “indigenous deal” will change those circumstances.. although I’m not convinced that blackmailing the US over their citizens’ access to Ireland will produce much leverage.. [subs req]

Mr Ahern said that any new agreement must take account of the heightened awareness of security in the US following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, while making it easier for Irish people to move to the US and for Americans to live in Ireland.

“I said to Condoleezza Rice that this is an issue which the Irish Government placed great store in, in that we accept now that, on the one hand, there are illegal people, Irish people here.

“We have to accept that as a reality. What we want to do now is to try and look forward in that, if any Irish person wants to come to the US that they do it in a legitimate way and that it’s well tied-down so that they’re happy from a security point of view and equally so, if there are people from the US who, substantial numbers of people from the US in some cases, have difficulty in getting a visa into Ireland.

“So obviously there’s a possibility of reciprocation there. And in doing that, if we can in some way deal with the existing problem, that is going to be a recurring problem, whether we like it or not,” he said