Irish immigration centers in New York are feeling the pinch of the recession and are concerned about the future of their services.

Spokespersons for the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, with offices in Queens and the Bronx, and the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers told the Irish Voice this week that although the Irish government has already pledged their annual funding for the coming year, essential donations from local businesses and the community are down considerably.

“The Irish government’s funding has now become even more critical for us with other sources cut back somewhat substantially. With our resources being so strained I don’t know what we would do without it,” said Brian O’Dwyer, chairman of the board at the Emerald Isle Immigration Center. This coming year the Emerald Isle is expected to get $210,000 from the Irish government.

Orla Doherty, executive director at the Aisling Irish Community Center, said there has been a tremendous growth in the demand for services from the center, which in turns puts added pressure on the staff and the financial resources at their disposal.

“People now seek our assistance with issues such as claiming unemployment benefits, other entitlements, health insurance issues, preparing resumes and submitting job applications,” said Doherty.

“There is no doubt there has also been a significant upsurge in the number of people seeking counseling as a result of domestic violence or relationship issues, alcohol and drug dependency or financial problems.”

O’Dwyer echoed the same sentiments as Doherty.

“There are a lot more people using the center now for various reasons. The reverse migration is certainly over, and now for the first time in many years people are showing up at our door step that have left Ireland in search of work. There is no question that the desperate economic situation in Ireland has brought lots more people to our center,” said O’ Dwyer. 

“Our staff, which has always been lean, is now much leaner and doing much more with less money,” he added.

 Both centers also receive funding from their local cities, but cutbacks in budgets means less money this year.  

The Emerald Isle receives some funding each year from the New York City Council and some monies from the borough of Manhattan, but this year it is less. 

“That money is down too because the city has had to cutback this year,” O’Dwyer said.

Both centers rely considerably on private donations from the community and fundraisers.

“We hold two fundraisers a year to make up the rest of the money we are down from grants, but it’s also down considerably this year,” said O’Dwyer.

The Aisling Center, which also receives funding from the New York State Office of Aging, and Child and Family Services and from the City of Yonkers, is down between 15% and 20% from last year. 

"This year, we are more dependent than ever on income raised from program and class income and from fundraising events. The turnout at J.P. Clarke's (a bar in Yonkers) golf outing, of 120 players, this past Monday and the projected income raised, which is donated to the Aisling Center each year, are both testimony of the wonderful support we receive from the local Irish community here in New York,” said Doherty.

O’Dwyer said the Emerald Isle has stepped up its private fundraising efforts by going out into the community and inviting new donors to support the center.

“We are making the case to people that the first priority for the community now has got to be the immigration centers, take care of your own first and we are hopeful that will pay dividends,” he said.

Looking ahead, O’Dwyer said the center is enormously grateful to the Irish government for the consistent funding over the past number of years. But he is apprehensive about the future knowing that there are considerable cutbacks needed to be made in Ireland also.

“We do not look forward to this next year with any sort of optimism. It’s going to be a tough slog,” said O’Dwyer.

“It’s a tough slog in a time when if ever we are needed it’s now. There are people being deported and a lot of different people coming to us with different problems. It’s enormously challenging, more than any other time in the 20 year history of the center and in a time when we are scratching for funding.”

Meanwhile, the Irish Minister for Education and Services Batt O’Keefe, announced last week that the Irish Government plans to add an additional ***20 million to the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund, run through the U.S.-Ireland Alliance, over the next number of years to secure the future of the program.

The program awards a number of U.S. students each year (105 since 1999) with a scholarship to study at a university in Ireland.

O’Keeffe said, “Since 1999, the George Mitchell Scholarship Program has attracted 105 high-caliber students from U.S. universities to study on a wide cross-section of postgraduate courses at universities on the island of Ireland, with a further 12 students due to start their studies in Ireland in the autumn.” 

O’Keeffe said the Irish government’s intention is to make ***20 million available for the prestigious scholarships over the next number of years. This is on top of the government’s £2 million ($3m) contribution in 1999 when the program was set up.

“The forthcoming legislation will commit the Irish government to providing up to ****4 million annually over the next number of years provided matching funding can be raised from private donors by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance,” said O’Keeffe.

The U.S.-Ireland Alliance set up the George Mitchell Scholarship Program in 1999 to mark Senator George Mitchell’s contribution to the peace process in the North.