Congressman Brian Donnelly, who authored a Bill to permit a visa, or NP-5, extension programme for Irish emigrants to the US, was “profusely thanked” by his Irish hosts during a visit to Ireland in the 1980s.

Documents released under the US Freedom of Information Act have revealed Washington’s backing for the Irish government and the Social Democrat and Labour Party(SDLP) position on efforts to counter employment discrimination in Northern Ireland.

The US Embassy and State Department papers, reported in the Irish Times, refer to a visit to Ireland by Congressman Brian Donnelly in early 1989. At the time there was discussion in Westminster of a new employment Bill aimed at closing the gulf in employment rates between Catholics and Protestants in the North.

Donnelly said the new Bill was “a step in the right direction” and he backed calls by the SDLP and the Irish government for the new law to include written employment targets and timetables.

Donnelly was chairman of the influential Friends of Ireland group in Washington. He compared the Northern employment situation to that in the US before affirmative action plans were enacted and used this to stress the need for legally binding fair employment rules and targets.

Donnelly, who authored a Bill to permit a visa, or NP-5, extension programme for Irish emigrants to the US, was “profusely thanked” by his Irish hosts.

Donnelly, as author of a Bill which provided a visa bonanza to “thousands of eager Irish immigrants”, was accorded “red-carpet treatment” by the Irish government and the Press.

The papers also record: “While there was much public and private praise for Donnelly’s efforts to secure more visas for the Irish, his stern warnings against illegal immigration to the US also got through loud and clear”.

He told Irish authorities there was little hope for an amnesty Bill for thousands of undocumented Irish living and working in the US.

During internal discussions at the embassy in Dublin, Donnelly and Ambassador Tom Foley staffer Werner Brandt promised to be helpful if the Department of State went forward with a supplemental to fund NP-5 processing.

The papers acknowledge that from Taoiseach(prime minister) Charles Haughey down, the Irish thanked Donnelly profusely for the NP-5 extension program.

Donnelly estimated between 20,000 and 24,000 benefited. But he was also “pessimistic on longer-term immigration reform” as he did not believe Congress would be interested in tackling the issue head-on for a few more years.

He was “frequently confronted” by media questions and at all his meetings about an amnesty for illegal Irish immigrants in the US at the time.

The files state that there was no political equation for amnesty at that time, and Donnelly “reiterated publicly time and again the importance of the Irish obtaining proper documentation before going to the US.”