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Pataki can count on Irish GOP support

POSTED ON June 12th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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George Pataki

By Ray O’Hanlon

Either the world and its mother is pursuing the Republican Party nomination for next year’s presidential election, or “the mother” part of that total is the only one taking a pass.

But it’s a mother who gives former New York governor George Pataki an entry card to Irish America as he works to gather support for his own, lately unveiled, presidential ambition.

The GOP field is crowded, and will soon be more crowded still.

Pataki’s recently launched candidacy has yet to attract top ten status, the required entry card to a planned pre-primaries GOP candidate debate on Fox television.

But in his home state, Pataki is gaining traction.

The three-term governor heads the Republican field in the Empire State along with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, this according to a recently released opinion poll from Quinnipiac University.

Pataki and Rubio are tied at 11 percent each. Jeb Bush is at ten percent.

Polls this early are not always reliable and much in the race could change, reported the New York Observer.

But Pataki, who is at the back of the pack nationally, could gain traction and win his old state outright, the weekly surmised.

And he might do well in New Hampshire too.

Pataki has been focusing on the Granite State in the early stages of his bid and there enjoys a key advantage over the Republican pack: he, at least, is a north easterner.

He is also Irish American in addition to his Hungarian heritage.

Pataki was born in 1945, a hundred years after the outbreak of the Great Hunger in Ireland.

Fifty years after his birth, as Irish America steeled itself to mark an especially solemn anniversary, Pataki was governor of New York, a state that had been a crucial refuge for the Famine Irish.

So when it came to marking the 150th anniversary it didn’t matter a whit that Pataki’s name was indeed Hungarian. He had Irish on his mother Margaret’s side.

And besides, the man born on the banks of the Hudson seemed ready, and more than able, to grasp the significance of an event that was bitterly remembered by some, but sidelined and largely ignored by mainstream America.

More than that, it turned out he was ready to call people to account for it.
George Pataki’s rise to prominence in the Republican Party had a lot to do with his habit of bucking tradition and challenging the accepted ways of doing things.

This wrapped Pataki in an aura of freshness in the eyes of voters who gave him the nod to replace Democratic incumbent Mario Cuomo in the 1994 gubernatorial election. Voters would do so again in two subsequent elections.

For Irish Americans loyal to both parties, the arrival of Pataki brought with it a moment of uncertainty.

When it came to Ireland, Irish American Democrats and Republicans in New York tended to aim for common ground. Cuomo had drawn plaudits from both camps for his Irish positions, not least his support of the MacBride Principles campaign.

Cuomo’s predecessor had been Hugh Carey, one of the “Four Horsemen.”

In the wake of both these men, Pataki, who didn’t hail from a New York City borough, but from Peekskill in Westchester County, was a largely unknown quantity on Ireland and Irish issues.
This state of affairs wouldn’t last for long.

Albany can be a murky place when it comes to politics and odd things can happen.
In 1995, someone in the capital’s bureaucracy inserted an obscure provision into Pataki’s first budget that, if implemented, would have terminated the state’s MacBride Principles compliance law.

But, unlike the recent turn of events in Florida, the rescinding provision was spotted and Pataki, who had voted for the MacBride bill as a state legislator, struck it from the budget.

Support for the fair employment guidelines might have been the high point of Pataki’s Irish policy but the freshman governor was now on a collision course with the British government, not over jobs in Northern Ireland, but over an historical wrong about to be writ large once again.

For years, Irish-American educators and activists had been urging inclusion of the Famine as a social studies subject in New York’s public schools curriculum.

The 150th anniversary placed the issue front and center and when legislation was drawn up in Albany, Pataki, in the fall of 1996, had no problem signing the legislation into law.

He did not content himself with a moniker, however.

At the signing ceremony, Pataki accused British authorities during the Famine years of carrying out a “deliberate campaign” aimed at denying the starving Irish the food they needed to survive.

Pataki’s words prompted a furious letter from then British ambassador to the United States, John Kerr.

The ambassador’s broadside, and the governor’s response, turned into arguably the biggest dustup between New Yorkers and the British since the Battle of Saratoga.

Kerr lambasted the governor, stating that it appeared Pataki was equating the Great Hunger with the Holocaust, confusing a natural disaster with a man-made one.

The Daily News soon got into the middle of things, accusing Kerr of being pompous.
Pataki held his fire for a time; indeed, three months were to pass before he delivered a response.

Pataki stood his ground. He had not equated the Great Famine with the Holocaust, he wrote Kerr. It was merely the case that the two would sit side by side along with slavery and genocide as human rights subjects for New York public school students.

Pataki wrote that the lofty perspective Kerr had assumed in his letter had been entirely indefensible.

Pataki again focused on the “gross inadequacy” of British relief efforts and argued that the suffering and death in Ireland were in part the result of “all too prevalent British beliefs in the inferiority of the Irish.”

In outlining his view, Pataki worded his case like the lawyer he was, drawing on statements from the Famine period by British officials as evidence to back up his position.

“But although we are not obliged to take offense on behalf of our great-grandparents, we are obliged to learn from history,” Pataki wrote.

“I want the truth above all to be taught. If it is, children in New York schools will learn that the Great Irish Hunger was no mere natural disaster.”

Just over four months later, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote a letter of his own.

British politicians during the Famine years, he acknowledged, had stood by while a defining event in the history of Ireland and Britain had turned into a massive tragedy.

Blair’s letter, read out to a Famine commemoration in County Cork, was seen in Albany as a vindication of Pataki’s determined stance.

“Blair obviously is cut from better cloth than Kerr and his ilk,” the Daily News sniffed in an editorial.

A couple of years later, Pataki would walk through Irish fields that had once known only the scent of death.

And from that visit, according to Jack Irwin, Pataki’s liaison to the Irish American community during his gubernatorial years, would spring the Great Hunger Memorial in Lower Manhattan, opened by Pataki and President Mary McAleese in July 2002.

The memorial is a replica of a West of Ireland field, specifically one in County Mayo.
George Pataki seems to have a thing for fields, and pastures new. He lives in Garrison, in bucolic Putnam County.

And right now he’s checking out the fields, (and the GOP field) in New Hampshire, working on a presidential run in a year that brings with it another standout Irish anniversary.

Ambassador Anne lauded at women’s event

POSTED ON June 11th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Ambassador Anne Anderson

By Ray O’Hanlon

Ireland’s ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson, is not at her post in Washington, D.C. today.

The popular plenipotentiary is back in Ireland where she is being honored, along with 24 other women, at an event highlighting Ireland’s “most powerful women.”

The gathering, including a “Leadership Summit” and a “Top 25 Awards” and hosted by the Women’s Executive Network, was attended by 700 people.

It was staged at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin.

Ambassador Anderson was one of the main speakers at the awards ceremony, others being Philomena Lee, whose life story was made famous in the movie “Philomena,” Microsoft’s Managing Director in Ireland, Cathriona Hallahan, and Enterprise Ireland chief, Julie Sinnamon.

Other speakers included Ulster Bank Northern Ireland chief, Ellvena Graham, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, Vodafone Ireland’s Anne O’Leary, Paypal’s Louise Phelan, Glanbia’s Siobhan Talbot, Keeling’s Caroline Keeling, Bank of Ireland’s Julie Sharp, Tesco’s Christine Heffernan, Judge Fidelma Macken, Suzanne McAuley producer of the acclaimed RTE crime drama “Love Hate,” youth campaigner Joanne O’Riordan, and vocal legend Veronica Cross.

The Women’s Executive Network event included both a leadership summit and an awards gala to celebrate the winners, and also to allow attendees to learn from the experience and knowledge of these successful women, said a release.

Two hundred attended the Leadership Summit, which delivered advice on negotiation skills, how to perform under pressure, and international leadership trends.

Five hundred attended the Gala Awards where Philomena Lee and Cathriona Hallahan gave keynote addresses.

A primary topic for consideration at the summit was the gender pay gap.

The gap in Ireland is currently 14.4 percent – and getting worse according to European Union statistics.

The statistics also show that women with children tend to fare worse in the pay scale against male counterparts,” said Pamela Jeffery, founder of Women’s Executive Network.

“Women need to be facilitated in their career progression and confident in their own value in the system. This is why we identify, promote and celebrate successful and influential women in Ireland,” Jeffery said.

The 25 award winners received their prizes in varying categories: for corporate executives, entrepreneurs, public sector leaders – the category in which Ambassador Anderson was recognized – trailblazers, the category under which Philomena Lee was honored, arts and culture, and a category headed “Hall of Fame.”

Rep. Brendan Boyle calls for collusion hearing

POSTED ON June 10th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Congressman Brendan Boyle.

By Ray O’Hanlon

U.S. Congressman Brendan Boyle has officially requested a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing to examine what he describes as “the shocking revelations into collusion” between parts of the British government and terrorists on their payroll.

The revelations were aired in a recently broadcast BBC “Panorama” news documentary.

Congressman Boyle is also formally calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene.

“The BBC documentary shines a much needed light on this subject,” said the Philadelphia Democrat.

“As the report states: ‘It is a fact there were murderers on the government payroll acting with impunity.’ It is clear to me Congress must investigate these matters to ensure they are finally dealt with in a just way. I am also calling on Secretary Kerry and the State Department to support an independent U.S. inquiry into this matter.”

Boyle added: “The Good Friday Agreement is one of the great foreign policy achievements of the last thirty years. It is important to remember this would have never happened without direct U.S. involvement to ensure all sides were listened to and represented.

“Similarly, it is quite clear to me that the issue of collusion between the state and terrorists will never fully be known unless the U.S. acts. The interests of justice demand it.”

Boyle has spoken to New Jersey GOP representative Chris Smith, asking for a hearing before his committee in addition to the full foreign affairs panel. Smith chairs the House Human Rights Subcommittee.

Others, including Amnesty International, have called for an investigation after the Panorama broadcast which was entitled “Britain’s Secret Terror Deals.”

DiNapoli eyes greater investment in North

POSTED ON June 9th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli speaking at the New York/New Belfast conference.

By Irish Echo Staff

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli — who controls more than $180 billion in pension fund for the state’s public workers — has pledged to invest further funds in Belfast start-ups.

Delivering the keynote speech at the annual New York/New Belfast conference Top 50 Companies List Luncheon in Manhattan last Friday, DiNapoli said he was determined to allocate the second half of a $30 million fund he has earmarked for early-stage companies in the North.

The first $15 million was placed with the Crescent Capital equity fund in March of last year.

As custodian of the MacBride Principles on Fair Employment in the north of Ireland, the comptroller has an oversight responsibility to ensure all companies in which the state invests offer equal opportunity to nationalists and unionists.

“I had the chance early in my tenure at the invitation, which was remarkable, of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, to go to Northern Ireland,” the comptroller told Irish Radio at the weekend.

“I got the sense that there was this concerted effort to put the past of the Troubles behind and work together in a collaborative fashion. That was 2008 and afterwards we had the global financial crisis but we had a commitment and wanted to do something.

“So we created a fund, the Emerging Europe Fund, and set aside at least $30 million for Northern Ireland because I wanted to make clear that if we were going to do investments we wanted to target the North because I saw great opportunities there.”

Comptroller DiNapoli says that during his return visit to the North last fall he was impressed again by the vitality, entrepreneurship and talent of the workforce.

“While we certainly need to make money, we also like to have our money be put to work doing good things. To be part of this process of transformation in Northern Ireland, for all to benefit from and to really secure that stability, for us to be a part of that for me has great meaning.

“I am looking forward to having more capital deployed there and to get that other $15 million out the door. We’ve been talking to others in the North about how we might invest that money. And I am hoping that then we can put some more money there.”

Comptroller DiNapoli, who was returned in statewide elections in New York last November and garnered the largest number of votes of any candidate for state office, stressed that his investments were aimed at keeping the peace process going.

“If the North can stay peaceful, and have a new era of prosperity, that will be the model for how we might resolve other conflicts. I see the North as a beacon of hope, and we all need to be involved in supporting that beacon of hope.”

The biggest-ever delegation of political leaders from Belfast attended the conference held at Fordham University Lincoln Center campus and the turnout for the Top 50 Companies Luncheon, which annually forms part of the conference, was the largest to date.

Members of the Stormont Assembly from five different parties were on hand for the conference, held on Thursday evening June 4, and on Friday June 5.

They were joined by counterparts from New York City Hall, Albany and Capitol Hill who have been staunch supporters of both the peace process and evolving transatlantic business and investment partnerships.

The conference was opened on Thursday evening by Fordham President Fr. Joseph McShane and New York-based Belfast actress, Geraldine Hughes.

Among opening night highlights was a presentation on “Game of Thrones” which is filmed in Northern Ireland and is generating a mini-tourist industry of its own. Opening night also featured a preview of the $54 million new Irish Arts Center in New York.

On Friday, the focus switched to business. Backed by premier business partner KPMG, the conference closed with a finale reception at the Midtown residence of Irish Consul General Barbara Jones.

Obama pledges to fight for immigration change

POSTED ON June 8th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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President Obama pledges to do “everything I can” to make immigration more equitable. White House Photo.

By Ray O’Hanlon

With his executive immigration initiatives stalled by court actions, President Obama has pledged to do everything he can to make the immigration system more equitable.

And in his weekly address, which was focused on celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month, the president focused on an Irish immigrant living in Virginia as an example of the immigration system working at its best.

“Of course, we can’t just celebrate this heritage, we have to defend it – by fixing our broken immigration system,” said the president in his national broadcast on Saturday, June 6.

“Nearly two years ago, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate came together to do that. They passed a commonsense bill to secure our border, get rid of backlogs, and give undocumented immigrants who are already living here a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, paid their taxes, and went to the back of the line. But for nearly two years, Republican leaders in the House have refused to even allow a vote on it,” he said.

“That’s why, in the meantime, I’m going to keep doing everything I can to make our immigration system more just and more fair. Last fall, I took action to provide more resources for border security; focus enforcement on the real threats to our security; modernize the legal immigration system for workers, employers, and students; and bring more undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so they can get right with the law.

“Some folks are still fighting against these actions. I’m going to keep fighting for them. Because the law is on our side. It’s the right thing to do. And it will make America stronger.

Looking back at his own, multiple, immigrant roots, Mr. Obama included Ireland.

“I think about my grandparents in Kansas – where they met and where my mom was born. Their family tree reached back to England and Ireland and elsewhere. They lived, and raised me, by basic values: working hard, giving back, and treating others the way you want to be treated.

In the context of Immigrant Heritage Month the White House had asked immigrants to share their stories by way of the White House website.

And one immigrant who did so was featured in the president’s talk.

“I want us to remember people like Ann Dermody from Alexandria, Virginia,” said Mr. Obama.

“She’s originally from Ireland and has lived in America legally for years. She worked hard, played by the rules and dreamed of becoming a citizen. In March, her dream came true. And before taking the oath, she wrote me a letter. ‘The papers we receive…will not change our different accents [or] skin tones,’ Ann said.

‘But for that day, at least, we’ll feel like we have arrived.’”

Concluded the president: “Well, to Ann and immigrants like her who have come to our shores seeking a better life – yes, you have arrived. And by sharing our stories, and staying true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants, we can keep that dream alive for generations to come.”

In contrast to Ann Dermody’s fortunate attaining of citizenship, thousands of her fellow Irish continue to live in the shadows of illegality as comprehensive reform bounces around Congress and the courts, seemingly going nowhere.

Arriving J-1 students need places to stay

POSTED ON June 4th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Montauk, at the eastern end of Long Island, is one of the most popular summer destinations for Irish J-1 Visa holders.

By Irish Echo Staff

While the global Irish diaspora was being discussed over the past couple of days at the first ever Global Irish Civic Forum in Dublin, hundreds of Irish students were packing their bags and preparing to join that same diaspora, at least temporarily.

Over 1,700 Irish students are expected to pass through New York airports over the coming days as part of the J-1 Summer Work and Travel Program – this according to the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in New York.

Many will travel on to various destinations in the New York area, especially Long Island ones such as Montauk and the Hamptons, areas of New Jersey and Connecticut, while some will travel farther to Ocean City, Maryland, Chicago and Boston, said EIIC in a release.

“However, a large number are expected to stay in the immediate New York area. In advance of the J-1 summer arrivals, EIIC has been working with many Irish Community organizations to assist with preparations.

Caitriona Howley, the EIIC’s Employment Coordinator, has spent a number of weeks preparing for their arrival by networking with employers and reaching out to the community seeking assistance with accommodation options, the release stated.

And it continued: “However, housing remains a major issue in New York City. While the EIIC lists some temporary accommodation in New York on our official J1 guide and at our office there is a significant shortage to meet the numbers of J1 Students who need somewhere to stay.”

The center is appealing to people that if they can consider renting a room, apartment or house to call the center at (718)478-5502 in Queens, (718)324-3039 in the Bronx, or indeed any Irish center in the New York area.

Emerald Isle estimates that many of the arrivals will not have sorted accommodation options in advance.

It is planning to hold daily orientation meetings at its Queens and Bronx Offices, commencing at 2 p.m. “over the next few weeks.”

And an EIIC J-1 Networking and Orientation Meeting will be held in the Consulate General of Ireland office on Park Avenue in Manhattan on June 9 from 4 to 6 p.m. The consulate is at 345 Park Ave., 17th Floor.

Photo ID will be required to enter the building.

Students are encouraged to bring their important documents, such as passports and social security cards, so that spare copies can be made and held there in case of an emergency, said the EIIC release. More at

Boston College to play in Ireland

POSTED ON June 4th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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The Aviva Stadium in Dublin

By Ray O’Hanlon

Ireland is becoming a go to place for fall college football classics.

In 2016, Boston College and Georgia Tech will do battle on the green sward of the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Details of what is being titled the Aer Lingus College Football Classic were released today.
The game will take place on Saturday, September 3, 2016.

The announcement was made at two receptions, one in Dublin attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and the other in Boston College attended by Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh.

Aer Lingus was also announced as title sponsor for the game that will see the Boston College Eagles kick off the 2016/17 NCAA Division I College Football Season in an Atlantic Coast Conference game against the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech.

Tourism Ireland, Failte Ireland and Dublin City Council are also supporting the game.
Event organizers are confident the game will be a 48,000 ticket sellout. It is expected that 25,000 will travel from the U.S. and Europe to the game, said a release.

While general ticket sales are still some months away, tour packages in the U.S. went on sale Thursday. Corporate hospitality facilities at Aviva Stadium have also gone on sale. Further details at

Speaking at the announcement, Mr. Kenny said he was delighted that college football was returning to Ireland.

“This is great news for Irish tourism and the economy. In 2012 and again last year we witnessed a huge surge of U.S. visitors to our shores for the Emerald Isle Classic and the Croke Park Classic and I have no doubt, particularly given Boston College’s close links with this country, we will see another spectacular success in 2016.

“Sports tourism and events like this college football game have become increasingly important as we build and develop our tourism industry and I want to thank Boston College President, Fr. William Leahy, for his support in making this game a reality.”

Aer Lingus Chief Executive, Stephen Kavanagh, said the airline was delighted to be involved in the game.

“We are very proud to partner with Boston College and Georgia Tech. Aer Lingus operates three daily services from Boston connecting to Ireland and beyond and we are delighted to support our local team.

“2016 is a very special year for Aer Lingus as we will celebrate our 80th anniversary. We look forward to offering guests a warm welcome on board our flights, and we wish the organizers all the best in their preparations for what promises to be a great sporting event,” Kavanagh said.

Boston College will be making its second football visit to Ireland. In 1988 the Eagles played and defeated Army 38-24 in front of a 42,000 crowd in the old Lansdowne Road, where the Aviva now stands.

BC’s Fr. Leahy expressed delight at the opportunity to return to Ireland.

“Our history and our connections with Ireland are well known. We are very proud of our campus on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green. 2016 is a very special year in Ireland’s history and we are particularly pleased that we will be travelling with hopefully tens of thousands Boston College supporters to share in those celebrations and enjoy this important conference game with Georgia Tech.”

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “This game will provide a further, very welcome boost for tourism next year, with up to 25,000 people expected to travel here from the U.S. and Europe.

“It will undoubtedly be another wonderful college football event for Dublin, bringing wider benefits to the island as a whole. Tourism Ireland in the U.S. is working closely with Anthony Travel, the official travel company for both colleges, and other travel partners, to maximize the tourism benefits of the game.

“Sports-related tourism has emerged as a very significant element of the global travel business in recent years and the Aer Lingus College Football Classic will be another great opportunity to showcase Dublin and Ireland, and more generally the many attractions that the island of Ireland offers as a holiday destination.”

The game is being organized by a newly created entity, Irish American Events Ltd, which is a joint venture between and Anthony Travel, who have been involved in the recent college football games in Ireland.

First Global Forum convenes in Dublin

POSTED ON June 3rd  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

03/06/2015. Global Irish Civic Forum. Pictured (Lt
On the ball: The Director General of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Paraic Duffy, and Minister for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan, in Dublin Castle today for the start of first ever Global Irish Civic Forum. Photocall.

By Ray O’Hanlon

They have traveled to Dublin from all over the U.S. and Canada.

And from all over the rest of the world.

They are convening in Dublin Castle for the very first Global Irish Civic Forum.

Initially it was anticipated that the forum would attract between 90 and 100 participants.

But 185 representatives from 17 countries have turned up.

So the two day gathering qualifies as global, as a forum, as Irish, and civic.

“We even have someone who has travelled all the way from New Zealand just to be here,” said co-host, Irish Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan.

“Whether you travelled from Nairobi, Newfoundland or Naas, the fact that so many of you have invested so much time and energy just to participate is a reflection of the importance of what we are trying to do and your commitment to that cause. So, thank you. We sincerely appreciate it,” Deenihan told all those assemble in his opening remarks.

Deenihan, almost a year in his current job, said it was timely and appropriate to take stock of this past year and perhaps pose a few challenges for the year ahead.

“In essence, if I was asked to sum up my first year in office, I would say the Irish diaspora landscape has changed. How Ireland engages with its diaspora has changed. How our diaspora engage with us has changed. And, significantly, how our diaspora engage with each other has changed.”

Deenihan told the forum that the “global Irish family” could stand together on issues, more linked than ever before.

And he continued in part: We wanted to bring you all together as, while we already have relationships with most of the people in this room, we see huge potential for sharing of your experiences and best practice among and between you.

“Alongside building a network of Irish community practitioners, there is of course another purpose for this event. The meeting in itself has value, in terms of bringing people together and sharing experiences, but this meeting is also part of the policy process. It is a listening and learning process for us. And, a policy shaping process for you.

“We are very clear in the diaspora policy – that we fully appreciate the need to evolve our practice to respond to the needs of Irish communities which themselves are constantly in flux.

“We are open to new ideas and new ways of working. So, this event is something much bigger than just two days of networking and building relationships for us.

“This conversation, and the influence you have, reflects that the government takes your views seriously and welcomes your input. I know, looking at the people in this room, I do not need to say this, but please do use this opportunity to its fullest.

The forum program, according to the minister, includes discussions on addressing the challenges facing new emigrants; protecting and promoting Irish identity and heritage; reaching out to Irish citizens overseas; promoting positive mental health, and, supporting those who wish to return to Ireland.

But do not feel constrained,” he said.

“There is scope within the panels to raise a range of issues and ideas,” he said.

“Of course, the cornerstone of the government’s commitment to the diaspora, the Emigrant Support Program, will remain. The program, which is focused on supporting the Irish overseas to make the best lives possible in their countries of residence, has provided over 125 million euro of funding since it was established in 2004.

“But, your very presence here today shows how we have progressed from just having a funding relationship to working in partnership, and that too is a milestone that should be noted.

The Irish community have clearly articulated a desire to remain connected to and involved in Irish life. How this actually happens is often through organizations like yours,” Deenihan said.

Politicians huddle in crisis Belfast talks

POSTED ON June 2nd  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Stormont House

By Ray O’Hanlon

Political leaders from North, South and across the Irish Sea are meeting in Belfast today in an effort to sort out the political impasse caused by the North Executive’s failure to pass a welfare bill.

The talks are also aimed at fully implementing the Stormont House Agreement reached last Christmas.

The survival of the current government in Belfast is seen as being on the line.

The talks involve the Irish and British governments, and all five political parties represented in the Assembly.

Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, and Minister of State Seán Sherlock, are representing the Irish government in what is being formally dubbed “a Review and Monitoring meeting of the Stormont House Agreement.”

“The failure last week of the Welfare Bill to secure approval in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the consequent budgetary implications, have a direct and major impact on the prospects for implementing the totality of the Stormont House Agreement,” said a statement from Flanagan’s department.

“Accordingly, following consultation with the British Government, it was decided that a Review and Monitoring meeting of the Stormont House Agreement would take place this week. All five of the Northern Ireland Executive parties will attend.”

Meanwhile, the Irish Times was reporting that two former Irish-American congressman have called on Northern Ireland’s parties and the British and Irish governments to seek a compromise on the budget cuts that have led to political stalemate.

James Walsh and Bruce Morrison said in a joint letter to North leaders that they believe a compromise can be reached to accept the current cuts envisioned by the Stormont Agreement coupled with a deal by the British government for a three-year moratorium on future welfare cuts.

“Northern Ireland should be in a much better place economically and socially in three years if the Stormont Agreement is broadly implemented,” the two said.

The North would benefit from “the resulting economic and political stability can produce increased inward and local investment in job-creating development.”

Walsh, a Republican, and Morrison, a Democrat, stated that this stability was “absolutely essential for the promotion of investment in Northern Ireland by American companies.”

Their proposal would provide the basis “for a renewed effort by each of you to resolve the current impasse impeding the further implementation of the Stormont Agreement.”

The letter was sent to North Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, Minister Flanagan and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Added the Times report: “Mr. Walsh and Mr. Morrison noted in their letter that the burdens on Northern Ireland from the recession and decades of the Troubles “make the prospect of further welfare cuts a matter of great concern.”

They pointed to the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in Northern Ireland and suicide, referring to a statistic that suicide is 63 per cent higher in Northern Ireland than the rate in Britain.

“We are concerned that a ‘one size fits all approach’ to welfare reform for the United Kingdom negates this striking reality of Northern Ireland’s recent past,” they wrote.

Even as leaders were gathering in Belfast, investment and jobs in Belfast, and the rest of Northern Ireland, were poised to take center stage at the sixth annual New York/New Belfast conference to be held at the Fordham Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week.

Republicans decry Fla. MacBride rescinding

POSTED ON June 1st  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Governor Rick Scott signing a bill. State of Florida photo.

By Ray O’Hanlon

The Irish American Republicans lobby group has come out against the recent rescinding of Florida’s MacBride Principles law by the Sunshine State’s GOP governor, Rick Scott.

In a strongly worded statement, the IAR said it was urging Governor Scott to “inform himself” regarding the current situation in Northern Ireland.

Said the IAR statement: “While we acknowledge the progress made since the Good Friday Accords, assisted by a period of incredible economic growth throughout Ireland, we also know that anti-Catholic sentiment is still very palpable in Northern Ireland.

“One needn’t live there to be aware of it; any visitor can see the signs, literal signs, of the tension that remains. Stout concrete wall be between neighborhoods have been built to keep the peace. In spite of our lingering substantial racial issues this is not a step that America has ever found necessary. It is an indication of how far Northern Ireland has to go.”

The statement saw no merit in Florida turning its back on a MacBride law that, up until a few days ago, had been on the state’s books since 1988.

It said: “To step back from the McBride Principles at this juncture is tantamount to endorsing the bigotry that has and does plague Irish society. Any pressure to do so can only originate from those who would profit from continued discrimination against Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority. No American politician who plans to remain in office should want himself identified with that effort.”

The statement concluded: “We urge Governor Scott to inform himself of the situation that exists in Northern Ireland, and reject this very bad idea.”

The rescinding was put into effect by Gov. Scott’s signature attached to a line item in Florida’s state budget.

Meanwhile, WGCU, National Public Radio station serving south West Florida, reported on the rescinding thus: “Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed nearly fifty bills into law this week. One of them lifted decades-old restrictions on doing business with Northern Ireland.

“The move has raised the ire of Irish Catholics.”

The report continued: The MacBride Principles were created in the mid-’80s to protect Catholics from economic discrimination in Northern Ireland. Among other things, they require employers to have a percentage of Catholics on staff.

“Florida — along with 17 other states and the federal government — adopted the principles. That means the Florida Pension Fund can invest in Northern Irish companies only if they prove they’re abiding by the principles.

But the new law does away with the investment restriction.”

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