An urgent need for immigration reform was the Irish American message at a Washington inaugural brunch hosted by the Council for American Ireland Relations (CAIR).
Speaking to hundreds of representatives of the Irish and Irish American community from around the country, lawyer Brian O’Dwyer pressed home the message that immigration should become the group’s “focal issue” as Obama moves into his second term as President of the United States.
O’Dwyer, the chairman of the CAIR, a senior partner at the New York firm O'Dwyer & Bernstien and a prominent lobbyist in Washington, told the crowd at the Phoenix Park Hotel that this year would see a change to immigration reform.
He said, “[Senator] Chuck Schumer is the number one Irishman in New York State. He tells us there is an immigration bill coming through.”
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New York Senator Chuck Schumer did not address the crowd but greeted guests during the cocktail reception.
O’Dwyer continued, “Years ago they put up a sign around the United States and that sign said No Irish Need Apply.” This year we are going to take that sign down.”
The Irish Ambassador to the United States, Michael Collins, also seconded O’Dwyer’s positive attitude toward progress with the ongoing fight for immigration reform in Washington.
Collins said, “We look forward very much to great progress here this year on immigration reform…Chuck Schumer said it’s going to be done and not only that but he also assured us that our own efforts to guarantee a future flow of Irish coming to the United States in preceding years, through an E3 program, will also be part of the bill.”
O’Dwyer added, “The reason we’re here today is because Irish America stands up and says to the American people that we’re part of the American people, we’re part of America, and we want to be recognized in the years to come. One of the things we have to do to make sure this happens is to make sure that immigration becomes our focal issue.”
Speeches at the event also referred to the changes at the Irish Embassy that come into effect later this year.
Having served in Washington since 2007, Ambassador Collins took the opportunity to officially address the news that he will, as of September, be stationed in Berlin, Germany.
He said, “It has been my real privilege to be here for five-and-a-half-years, shortly it will be six years, and in that time I have gotten to know so many wonderful, wonderful people in our community and beyond. This gives me my first opportunity, since learning about my own future, to salute all the good friends that Ireland has in this room. Ireland is blessed with friends that we have in the United States, in New York, in Washington and beyond.”
Collins will be replaced by Tipperary native and permanent representative of Ireland to the United Nations Anne Anderson. She will be the first female Irish ambassador to the United States.
O’Dwyer also passed comment on who would replace Dan Rooney as the US ambassador in Ireland.
He said, “We think Mark Tuohey will be the best representative that we’ve ever had.”
Tuohey, who was present at the CAIR event, is a partner in Brown Rudnick and is well known in Irish American circles. Having expressed interest in replacing Steeler’s boss Rooney, he is currently the frontrunner for the position.
Both O’Dwyer and Collins also thanked all of those, including the Irish government, who had helped those in need following the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy along the east coast, from the firefighters to those who donated to the Red Cross and Irish Day of Action.
The Washington event was attended by various representatives from Washington and New York including the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, the Irish Business Organization, Irish Network in New York, the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, press, other emigrant groups, and representatives from the Irish community.
As attendees filed out to take in the atmosphere of Washington as the city prepared for Obama’s public inauguration, each guest signed posters which will find permanent residence at Ollie Hayes’ pub in the President’s ancestral home of Moneygall, County Offaly. They read, “There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama,” and “From Moneygall, Offaly, to the White House.”