Thursday, March 27, 2008

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern Turns His Back on Reform for the Undocumented Irish

By Bart Murphy

“THE concept of an amnesty, wiping the sheet clean, is just not on.”
“They are talking from a position of sitting in the bar, and talking nonsense.”

With these comments made while standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on St. Patrick’s afternoon, and with all the subtlety of a head-butt, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern turned his government’s back on supporting recent proposals put forward by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) for a U.S.-Ireland bilateral visa program.

This proposal would deal with the crisis of the undocumented Irish and finally provide a permanent and sensible pathway to Irish-U.S. migration going forward.

No less than two Aherns, Bertie the taoiseach and Dermot, the minister for foreign affairs, had previously made public and private commitments to support the proposal and push for its implementation in Washington.

However, it had become increasingly clear over the last six months that while a significant number of influential U.S. elected leaders were interested in pursuing discussions, for unexplained reasons our own team were not turning up for the match. Excuses were made, but no plausible rationale offered.

Labeling committed Irish immigrant advocates as misguided and uninformed bar-stool dreamers and the bilateral visa proposal an “amnesty,” Ahern set off a flurry of criticism over the Irish government’s refusal to push for a long-term and viable solution to the issue.

Reports and opinion pieces in the Irish and Irish American media bear headlines such as “A Kick in The teeth for the Irish in America,” “Ahern in Bar-Room Row Over U.S. Illegals”, “Pack Your Bags” and “The St. Patrick’s Day Insult.”

Talk about washing your linens in public! Bertie, what were you and your senior advisors thinking?

We may never know the answer, and it leaves many more unanswered questions regarding the Irish government’s real attitude and commitment to the future of its tens of thousands of undocumented men, women and children in the U.S.

It would be too easy to simply hurl back insults to the taoiseach and his senior advisers from the Department of Foreign Affairs for this grossly unwarranted and misleading criticism.

And perhaps that’s what Ahern’s comments were designed to do -– to shift the debate away from working on a solution, to trivialize the advocates, to personalize the debate.

For make no mistake about it, in all their uncouthness and insensitivity, Ahern’s comments were carefully planned and choreographed to cause damage. Having navigated the choppy waters of the Northern Ireland peace process for the last 20 years, these guys know how to spin an issue and shift a debate better than most.

By tarring the proposed bilateral visa solution as an “amnesty,” Ahern and his advisers want to knock it on its head. They know well that “amnesty” is the atomic bomb of U.S. immigration politics.

It is the language of Tancredo and Dobbs. It plays to people’s fears and the lowest common denominator in the immigration reform debate.

And it’s unfair and untrue. We sadly know too well the U.S. is not ready for broad, sweeping, comprehensive immigration reform.

The only significant U.S. immigration reform in the last 45 years has come about on a country by country and regional basis — El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Russia, Israel and South East Asia. Australia, Chile and Singapore now have long-term bilateral visa systems put in place with the U.S., each one a little bit different and tailored to country specific needs.

Given Ireland’s much vaunted relationship with the U.S. on a number of fronts, many experienced hands, including former Congressman Bruce Morrison, author of the Morrison visa program which granted 48,000 green cards to the Irish in the 1990s, feel that Ireland would be pushing “an open door” in seeking such an arrangement. It might not be perfect, it might need some finessing, but isn’t that what Bertie does best?

We’ve long heard the pious platitudes and sound-bytes of Ireland “cherishing our diaspora.” But those of us with memories longer than an Irish election cycle also recall the tepid reception and lack of interest previous Irish governments had in the Morrison and Donnelly proposals 20 years ago.

Without the push of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement and its allies, there are many now successful Irish men and women in America who would have been otherwise left twisting in the wind. Oh, how history repeats itself!

Let’s not confuse the issue. To give credit where its due, the Irish government has been proactive and very generous in recent years in funding U.S.-based Irish immigrant social service agencies.

But that generosity does not fix the long term political and social problems facing our undocumented in the U.S. It is at best, treating some of the symptoms and not the core illness.

Without bold, ambitious commitment and action on the part of the Irish government, the undocumented issue will keep getting bigger and bigger. Thirty-thousand to 50,000 people with roots in their local communities across the country, many now with U.S. born, school going children, are not going back to Ireland in the near or long term. And to suggest otherwise is a political cop-out.

A more famous and perhaps wiser and wilier Irish politician, Edmund Burke, once said that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Sorry, Bertie. I’m with Burke on this one.

(Bart Murphy serves on the board of directors of the San Francisco Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center, is past president and a member of the board of the National Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers and serves on the advisory board of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.)


Anonymous said...

If you are at the stage were you have to leave America. There is a wide varitey of visas open to the irish for Austriala or Canada at the moment and the live style is very good in both. Iam am back in Ireland after 10 years and there is new roads shops and houses but the standered of living has not improved any.Whit cost of living compared to wages it probely harder now than ever

Anonymous said...

The Irish Government are known down thru the years for neglect & falseness and Ahern and his band of luns are traitors to the Irish people at home who re-elected the bolix and to the undocumented here in the States. Its not the first time the Government has turned its back on those whom have flown the nest. Bitter I am!!

Anonymous said...

I am back in Ireland.. lived for 6 years in the USA. Legal! but i saw the contribution of my illegal fellow men! They pay taxes, eduate their kids.. and made a major contibution .. shame on you FF... all we needed was your support

Anonymous said...

i live in the usa illegal have done for over 6 years i came here with nothing and thats when times were good in ireland and all i had a home that time was bills and not much else . i made a life hear work hard pay taxes rent and much more i cant claim taxes back but still have a good way of life. i have lots of family and friends in ireland who right have been or are about to be let go from work one guy i know was let go in nov from a house building company which he was with for ten years and and nearly four months later he still cant get work and i could go on for hours about more like him . so bertie i do the same kind of work out here what do i do if i come home and need work will u help me get work and put money in my pocket until i do get work will u fuck. ill have to fight to get the dole because i havent worked in ireland in so many years wake up ya gobshite u cant keep the people that live there in work

Anonymous said...

shame on you bertie. when the undocumented most needed your help you left us we need help we are irish citizans after all

wheatwhacker said...

So, whats the answer? My trade here is booming, nice home, car, friends, weather, the list goes on. In Ireland, with construction in the hole, do you Mr Ahern expect me to go back to that s##t hole and sign on the dole, oops no I need to be from Poland to get dole. If your reading this, I'm a friend of your cousin in Belgooly and respect you for the fact you visited a mutual friend of ours on his death bed 7 years ago in the same village.
I do NOT like the bar stool comments you made. Yes there are a few "beer tasters" over here, a lot of whom have done well after they got over the shock of how many beers an hours work can provide. I gave my best years in Ireland, left with a broken pocket and a broken heart. A least help us now or, we'll be back to sign on....

Anonymous said...

What would you expect from an horses ass but a kick?Shame on you Bertie.

When I lived in Ireland I worked full-time and payed a wee fortune in taxes,the same here for 12 years.If I have to go back to Ireland because the Irish government did not help me fight to stay in America,then I will find away to take every penny I can from the government and show every other returning Irish citizen how it is done......I will hit the government where it hurts...the pocket!!