Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has become deeply frustrated with the hold-up in Irish funds for the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) in the Republican controlled US House of Representatives amid clear indications that Ireland is being targeted by some Republicans on the right.
Clinton convened an unprecedented meeting between top State Department officials and the Irish Embassy and personnel from the Northern Ireland office in Washington last week after complaints were made about the holdup in IFI funding over St. Patrick's Day.
$15 million in funding for peace projects in Northern Ireland is being held up. TheIrish E3 immigration visa bill is also in limbo as Republicans continue to oppose it.
The atmosphere at the State Department / Government meeting was described as one of "deep frustration" as both sides battle with the reality of the post Ted Kennedy /Chris Dodd era when most Irish projects on Capitol Hill such as the IFI were usually passed through easily.
What has emerged from those meetings is a worrying sign that Ireland no longer carries the same clout in Washington in the post Kennedy/Dodd era and that Republican right wingers are seizing on the Irish funding issue to hold up State Department initiatives.
Some leading Irish and American figures in Washington are privately urging the Irish Government to step into the modern era and hire full time lobbyists on Capitol Hill like most other governments do to further their agenda.
"Some Republicans are using Ireland as the poster child for no overseas aid," said a leading Irish figure on Capitol Hill. "The Irish agenda is being targeted."
They say that diplomats alone are no longer able to carry the fight in the absence of a Kennedy or a Dodd on Irish issues. There are worrying signs of an Irish backlash.
Even the attack by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the powerful head of the House Foreign Relations Committee on the proposed Che Guevara statue in Galway where she has called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to stop, has fueled fears that Ireland is being singled out.
The recent visit of former speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation to Dublin has cemented links between Ireland and the Democrats but it is still a long shot that Democrats can regain control of the house in November's election.
Ros-Lehinten and Congressman Jason Chaffetz(R-Utah) are seen as the two main protagonists blocking the International Fund money.
Two Congressmen, Joe Crowley the Queens Democrat, and Peter King the Long Island Republican, released another letter last week seeking the IFI funding.
“For nearly two decades, the United States has been at the forefront of international efforts to promote peace in Northern Ireland.
“The United States has consistently demonstrated its commitment to peace in Northern Ireland through high-level negotiations, diplomacy and grassroots peace-building. While many Americans, including those active in the Irish-American community, are proud of the United States' role in these achievements so far, there is still much work to be done moving forward.
“Unfortunately, a very real increase in sectarian violence in the North has recently erupted, including more bombing incidents in recent years than at any time since 2002-2003. The surge in hostility may aim to derail what has been achieved throughout the peace process, or to take advantage of ongoing tensions and provocations.
“We understand that budgetary pressures on our own government call for careful decisions about funding. Yet, the IFI has already been out substantially in recent years – even as important matters there remain unresolved. The United States has a solid history of maintaining support for the IFI and deserves considerable credit. With so many Americans of Irish descent, our ties to Ireland are strong, and our interests are well-served by remaining deeply engaged in the peace process.”
The letter concluded: “We respectfully request your continued support in providing $15 million for the IFI in the FY 2013 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.”
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