The Irish population in America should rally around immigration reform, said Micheal Martin, Minister for Foreign Affairs, in New York on Saturday.
Martin said that lobbyists were hopeful that reform might take place in the first three months of 2010, and the question of undocumented Irish will be part of a comprehensive review of the immigration system.
The government had lobbied intensively, he added.
“The Irish government has articulated our concerns to Obama himself. And there’s a need for the community here to be supportive,” Martin said.
The Minister said the Irish government was pleased with the work of Irish immigration centers in the US. The government finances these centers and has asked them to project what they think their requirements will be over the next five years. Funding for the centers is at a record high, he said. “We’d be doing well to maintain that. The target is to try and hold onto what we have.”
Martin was speaking on the last day of his busy four-day visit to the U.S. during a trip to the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary in Manhattan’s Financial District. Michael Collins, the Ambassador of Ireland, and Niall Burgess, the Consul General in New York, were among those present.
The Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary, at 7 State Street, has a historic significance for Irish immigrants.
In the 19th and early 20th century, its priests and staff welcomed hundreds of thousands of young Irish women who had come on the boat to New York from Ireland, taking them in and finding them jobs in Catholic homes.
Now, older Irish immigrants as well as young people need care.
“The senior helpline needs to be built on,” the Minister explained, speaking of the toll free phone-line for seniors which he came over to launch in May this year. “It’s an opportunity to deal with the loneliness and isolation that senior citizens experience.”
Last month at the Farmleigh Conference in Dublin, the Minister promised to set up a global Irish network, and to develop an online portal to connect the diaspora with Ireland. The Farmleigh recommendations included investing in research and development to make Ireland an “innovation island.”
But it will be hard to do this at a time when the government is cutting back on education spending. “We have to make savings,” the Minister said. “But we’re starting from a higher level than before.”
It will take about a year for the Irish economy to recover, he said. “We’re at the bottom of it now but we’re turning a corner, and we’ll come out of it.”
Irish centers all over the country have seen a rise in immigration from Ireland. New York in particular, has had an influx of university graduates. But the Minister said there is no evidence of a big migration pattern to the U.S.
“Irish people are aware of the difficulties of coming over here illegally, they’re aware of the dangers,” he pointed out. “We would be advising people against trying their luck."