Irish Labor Party Senator Alan Kelly is in New York this week to participate in a number of business meetings and to meet with Irish undocumented.
Kelly, 33, from Tipperary, was elected to the Seanad (Senate) in Ireland last year and has been very outspoken on the issue of the estimated 50,000 Irish undocumented currently living in the U.S. within his party and during Seanad sessions in Ireland.
"I have raised the issue a number of times in the Seanad last year and I will continue to do so," said Kelly during an interview with the Irish Voice in New York on Tuesday.
Kelly, whose political career began in 1992 when he worked on the Tipperary North General Election campaign for the Labor Party, said he was disgruntled at former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern's comments suggesting that Irish American reformers were seeking "amnesty" for the undocumented, and nothing could be done from an Irish perspective weeks before his resignation.
"I feel that some of the comments by the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last year were unfair and his timing was diabolical," said Kelly, who went on to say he asked Ahern to withdraw the statements but he never did.
Kelly said he is aware that the Irish government is "working on series of proposals" to help solve the issue of the undocumented living in the U.S., but he feels "it's very important to manage expectations because on a number of occasions people's expectations were heightened and then they were let down again."
Kelly, whose New York-based brother Declan Kelly, CEO of Financial Dynamics, is to be honored at the American Irish Historical Society's annual gala this Thursday, admits that some of his neighbors and friends from Tipperary are currently residing in the U.S. without legal documentation.
"The Irish government has a responsibility to be up front in order to make sure that these people can make life decisions on the work that is done, and I don't think that false promises will help anyone," he feels.O
n the recent announcement of the 20,000 new Irish and American student visa program commencing soon, Kelly said, "It was very welcome but I hope that is not it." He said he hopes there is much more going on in the background "so we can regularize this situation for these people."
Looking ahead to a new administration that will take over the White House in January, Kelly said that he feels the Irish government will need to take swift action.
"The government will need to redouble its efforts to try and get in place a model which parallels with what Australia has achieved and other similar countries," he said.
Not convinced that every avenue has been explored, Kelly said that a strong collaboration is necessary with the lobbyists on the ground in the U.S. such as the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR).
"I will be pushing for the government to redouble their efforts now to achieve some kind of success in years to come. I think there is a great opportunity with a new administration now. It's essential the communication between both sides at the very beginning of a new administration is open," said Kelly, who successfully contested the Labor nomination to be the party's candidate in the European elections for the constituency of Ireland South next year.
Kelly feels a sit down between the Irish government and the new White House administration in the New Year is paramount in order to set out some kind of plan for alleviating the "human issue" that is affecting so many of his fellow Irish natives.
"I do believe there is good will within the U.S. for a solution to a degree. It just needs to find the right formula in order to achieve that," he said.
Kelly said the Labor Party spokesperson on foreign affairs, Michael D. Higgins, and party leader Eamonn Gilmore have broached the subject of the Irish undocumented many times before and will continue to do so in the coming years and moths. "The issue touches everyone, and now time is of the essence to try and find a solution," he said.
Kelly, who worked with Board Failte for nine years prior to starting his political career, said ILIR would be very welcome at the Oireachtas to educate the government on the issue of the Irish undocumented.
"The Seanad's primary objection is not legislative; we're more lobby orientated so it's even more reason for ILIR to come so we can get more involved," said Kelly.