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President Michael D Higgins speaking to Trina Vargo US-Ireland Alliance CEO Photo by: Google Images

Irish politicians demand that US-Ireland Alliance CEO appear before their committee

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President Michael D Higgins speaking to Trina Vargo US-Ireland Alliance CEO Photo by: Google Images

Seven members of the Irish Foreign Affairs Committee of the Irish parliament have requested that US-Ireland Alliance founder and CEO Trina Vargo appear before them to explain how the finances of the US-Ireland Alliance are spent.

The Alliance has created much controversy with the amount of funding they have received from the Irish government among others to send 12 students known as MitchellScholars annually to Ireland. Vargo, a former staffer for Senator Edward Kennedy has previously refused to appear before the committee.

The Alliance has also clashed with groups in the Irish American community over its opposition to efforts to legalize the undocumented Irish and its assertion that the community is in decline.

The group, led by Senator Mark Daly, stated in a letter to Vargo that “this country owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Senator George Mitchell. His commitment to the Good Friday Agreement is responsible, in a large part, for the peace we enjoy on this island today. The Mitchellscholarship programme is a fitting and appropriate tribute to his legacy in Ireland.

"However, the future of the Mitchell scholar programme is in doubt, due to the initial withdrawal of funding and the subsequent indication of partial funding by the US state department. The Mitchell Scholar Act legislates for Ireland to contribute 20 million euros over time to the fund but without adequate US funding the future of the programme is uncertain. 

"According to the most recent set of accounts, it costs $1 million annually to run the scholars programme, yet it appears that the 12 scholars cost the programme just €22,000 each per annum. Given Ireland's current financial situation, it would be appropriate that a complete audit should occur carried out by the controller and auditor general - to determine are we getting value and is the program being run correctly. With the same amount of annual funding invested in the program but cutting administration costs, including the president of the Alliance €175,000 salary, it would be possible for some scholars form Ireland to go to the United States which is currently not the case. It is clear that Ireland needs to get better value for its contribution

"Despite numerous requests since March the Foreign Affairs Committee have been unsuccessful in getting a clear indication of a date when the president of the US Ireland Alliance Ms Trina Vargo or any member of the board would be willing to come before it to answer questions. In a time of such budgetary pressure in Ireland we believe that any organisation that will receive a total of 20 million euro of exchequer funds should be prepared to come before a committee of the Oireachtas, to explain how  Irish tax payers money is being spent. It is the least that the Irish people deserve."

The letter is signed  by Senator Mark Daly, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, Deputy Sean Crowe , Senator Lorraine Higgins, Deputy Gerard Nash , Deputy Micheal Mulliins, and Senator Jim Walsh.

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