The George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program, named for the former Senator from Maine who brokered the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, is struggling to ensure its future since losing its federal funding from the US government.
The scholarship program, run by the US- Ireland Alliance, was founded 15 years ago and sends American students to Ireland for postgraduate study north and south of the border. Each year, 300 applicants compete for 12 spots.
According to the US-Ireland alliance, the program costs $600,000 to fund per year. In the past, the United States government has provided $485,000 and the Department of Education in Northern Ireland pays the remainder.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cut the US government’s contribution of $485,000 before leaving office, and her successor John Kerry has declined to restore it.
Trina Vargo, the president of the US-Ireland Alliance, controversial for her past remarks on the Irish American community, told the Bangor Daily News in Maine that the State Department had once again refused to reinstate the funding despite a recent letter of support for the Mitchell Scholarships sent and signed by 50 members of Congress, including all of Maine’s four delegates.
“From my perspective, it’s kind of the beginning of the end,” Vargo told the paper. “We’ve already started spending from the endowment.”
The scholarship currently has an endowment of $6 million. Vargo sais they would need to increase that amount to $40 million in order to run the program off endowment in perpetuity.
She said that the Irish government has offered to match her fundraising by up to $25 million.
Irish businessman Sean O’Sullivan, best known for his role on the TV show “Dragon’s Den,” also stepped earlier this year with a donation of $300,000, which was matched by the Irish government. These funds plugged the gap for the class of 2015.