The inaugural meeting of the newly formed Irish American Leadership Council took place last Friday in New York, with a robust exchange of ideas among members and Irish government leaders on how to maximize the multi-tiered relationship between Ireland and the Irish community in the U.S.

The meeting was chaired by Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, who traveled from Dublin last week for three days of engagements in New York and Washington, D.C. 

The three-hour meeting, which was held at the American Irish Historical Society on Fifth Avenue in New York, was attended by nearly 40 representatives of the Irish American community from groups throughout the country, and U.S.-based representatives of Irish government agencies, including Tourism Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Food Board and IDA Ireland. Also present were Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Collins and Irish Consul General in New York Niall Burgess.

Martin stressed that the Irish government considers its relationship with Irish American leaders to be vital, and that the Leadership Council would continue to be open to ideas.

“We want to collectively work together to enhance the relationship with the U.S.,” Martin said. “Out of that relationship comes benefit for Ireland and for the Irish community in the U.S.”

The council came into being after Collins conducted a strategic review of Ireland-U.S. relations last year and concluded that one of the ways the relationship could be enhanced would be through the creation of the new group. 

Attendees at the meeting represented a vast swath of Irish America, including culture, business, philanthropy, sports, politics, education and media. Among the topics discussed were the Irish peace process, the Irish economy, challenges facing the Irish-born community here, including the current state of U.S. immigration law, and the increasing influence of Irish culture among mainstream America.

Martin told members that after a series of meetings on Capitol Hill earlier in the week, the Irish government was told that as of now, the only way to solve the problems facing the estimated 50,000 undocumented in the U.S. would be through a comprehensive reform package.

The minister said that the U.S. legislators he met – among them, Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Patrick Leahy – expressed optimism that a comprehensive bill will be ready for introduction and action in the first three months of next year.

Martin also said that the government would continue to press for a bi-lateral visa deal between Ireland and the U.S. that would ensure a long-term flow of legal immigration between the two countries. However, he added that any such deal would have to come as part of comprehensive reform.

“We can’t go it alone,” Martin said with regards to a bi-lateral deal. “We have to be clear to our people that we can’t do it alone. If comprehensive doesn’t happen, we would then pursue (a bi-lateral) deal.”

Martin also talked about the success of the recent Global Irish Forum in Dublin, and particularly how attendees responded to ideas of putting Ireland forth as a cultural powerhouse.

The Irish American Leadership Council, Martin said, would be “flexible and open,” and “always open to ideas.”

“We want to be proactive,” Collins said, “and we want to make sure the dialogue is there.”