by Marie O'Halloran
Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern is looking at the
possibility of a bilateral agreement with the US to resolve the issue
of the undocumented Irish, but the Government's main priority is to
seek a comprehensive reform package.
Mr Ahern told the Dáil that the Government was looking at all options,
including a bilateral agreement. He warned, however, that such an
arrangement might actually work against undocumented Irish. The issue
was raised following individual visa agreements reached by the US with
Australia and with Chile.
There are an estimated 11 million undocumented people in the US, of
whom up to 60,000 could be Irish. The Government had campaigned
consistently for the Kennedy-McCain proposals, to give them legal
Fine Gael spokesman Bernard Allen asked if the Government had broached
the "subject of a visa exchange programme between US and Ireland
similar to the one with Chile and Australia and which would give not
only Irish people an opportunity to have access to the US labour
market but would give opportunity to US citizens to work here".
Mr Ahern said that in relation to "bilateral arrangements, we are
looking at all the options but our primary responsibility and priority
is in relation to dealing with this issue of the undocumented once and
for all, in a way that will be relatively easy for them."
He added that "there are a number of other suggestions in relation to
bilateral arrangements, which might not necessarily assist
undocumented; which might make it even more difficult for undocumented
in a way."
"So can I say that our first priority, based on the advice that we get
from people like Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator John McCain and
others, is for a comprehensive reform package," Mr Ahern added.
He looked forward to a "further intensification of the Government's
efforts on behalf of the undocumented in the period ahead, in
particular with key members of the incoming Congress", and he was
hopeful "that in the first half of next year that we would have some
substantial progress to make in that respect."
There was "a different landscape after the election and a number of
people, both Republican and Democrats, who had been favourably
disposed to immigration reform have been re-elected with somewhat
Nonetheless, "there are some in the Democratic Party who wouldn't
necessarily be very much in favour of immigration reform for a number
of other reasons, not least for the whole issue of labour supply and
trade union issues which are very strong in the Democratic Party
Mr Ahern had written to senior congressional leaders in the wake of
the election, raising the issue of the undocumented Irish and on a
recent visit to the US had met the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform,
which was "most effective for promoting awareness within the US of the
Irish dimension to the undocumented issue."
However, comprehensive immigration reform "remains divisive and
difficult both in the Congress and in the US generally."