“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

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  • George

    Of course you can take it as a fault-allocating exercise and say Ahern is blaming the “conflict”.

    On the other hand, you can take it as Ahern looking for a way to get the problem of Irish illegals sorted and if he can sell “conflict resolution” as part of the solution, great.

    Also, I think you are being a little free and easy with your use of “blackmail”, which is quite a heavy allegation.

    Nowhere does Ahern mention holding back US visas. What is needed here is something the American government can sell to its own constituency that doesn’t look like favouritism.

    As Staunton says:

    “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.”

    Ahern is discussing the issue going forward in this context:

    “No doubt there are many more Americans looking to come to Ireland,” Ahern said. “And obviously that would be part of the mix. There are a lot of suggestions as to how we do these bilateral agreements, and we are open to that.”

    Simply an effort to find a solution to the problem now that the legislative option is gone.

    “Three years ago we started the ball rolling in relation to this issue because we saw that there was an opportunity there for us to pursue comprehensive reform for once and for all. Now basically we have to work with what we have and pursue any avenue open to us that would be of assistance.

    “There is a level of goodwill to Ireland. We will try and use that goodwill.”

    Perhaps you can point out anywhere where Ahern is trying to pressurise the Americans through threats to justify your use of the word “blackmail”?

    Offering to increase the number of visas for US Citizens wanting to come to Ireland as part of a new bilateral deal is not blackmail in my view.

  • Pete Baker


    While it is, admittedly, reading between the lines, bringing into the mix the issue of visas for US citizens can’t be seen as anything other than trying to use it as a bargaining chip.

    You may interpret that as an offer to increase the number of visas, but equally it could be seen as a threat to lower them.

  • Dessertspoon

    Strange kind of blackmail where Ireland lose out. That said as America makes it harder and harder to get in to the country with ever more ridiculous reasons to refuse visas and its proposals for illegals to legitimise themselves being less than attractive (large fines and having the leave the country for up to 15 years to process applications!!) perhaps giving the Yanks a taste of their own medicine isn’t a bad idea.

    Why does everyone want to go there anyway? It’s full of awful Americans 😉

  • George

    I see nowhere where Ahern says that the number of US visas could be lowered or even anyway it could be implied.

    He talks about how “many more” Americans are looking to come to Ireland. This is the bargaining chip here, in my view, and why I think with your use of “blackmail” you have probably read a little too much between the lines on this particular occasion.

    Ireland actually needs and wants more Americans (I’m sure some will disagree) so this bargaining chip is pretty weak as we want to give it anyway.

    If we can actuall get something for it, all the better. This is all an attempt to present a solution to the “illegal Irish” problem as a bilateral agreement. No threats, no blackmail involved.

  • One of the richest countries in the world now and still playing the poor mouth. God we never lost it did we?

  • susan

    I agree completely and absolutely with George. For once. ;o)

    I know my lack of moral absolutism on this will disappoint you, Pete, but putting a polite face on both bribery and blackmail has always been inherent to the arts of diplomacy and statecraft.

    And many of the illegals in the U.S. are from the border counties, and the North, and for some –admittedly not for all, but definitely for some — the conflict did play a direct or indirect role in their decision to get out of Dodge and try their luck in America.

    If putting a spotlight on that will help more families get out of legal limbo — and for the most part we are talking about young families with children, mortgages, small businesses, etc. — well then, bring on the violins.

    Both the ILIR and Ahern did what they could in the push for comprehensive immigration reform in the States. No one sees that happening now until after the next U.S. presidential election, and so they must do what any other ethnic group would do, and secure the best deal for their people that they possibly can.

  • I think it’s awful that they would even consider some sort of deal based on the legacy of the troubles. I highly doubt that Irish illegal immigrant population here is made up of a substantial number of people “fleeing the troubles”. And the ROI was poor before the troubles,, and got richer during it, so any contention that economic migrants from Ireland are defacto refugees is ludicrous. However, I think an agreement on immigration would be well received, as long as it didn’t include an amnesty for Irish illegal immigrants, because that kind of favoritism will not be easily defended in the U.S.

  • susan

    Abdul-Rahim, no one is saying that tens of thousands of people flew to America because they were under exclusion orders or death threats. What they are saying was that the conflict did result in lack of economic activity and investment on BOTH sides of the border for a significant period, resulting in higher unemployment and deprivation not only in the North but from the six border counties as well.

    Economic activity and investment — not only from industry but from EU programmes, the Fund for Ireland (is that the name?) — did pick up in the nineties, of course it did, but many of those seeking green cards left home in the nineties, before things improved materially in the North and before the Celtic Tiger earned its stripes.

    I’m unaware of any talk of an “amnesty” — any deal would require would-be new citizens to pay fines, back taxes, etc.

  • Oiliféar

    Sounds like old-fashioned speil and Blarney on the part of Ahern to pull at the yanks heart-strings in the age of the “War Against Terrorism.” Nothing but bluff, but if it works, what harm?