Monday, August 25, 2008

Democrats see immigration as key voting issue

And they're off! The Democrat convention kicks off today in Colorado, and as CNN says, there is some serious selling to be done there. Mostly selling Obama to the American voters.

However, they are also using immigration reform to do a strong sell to Hispanic voters who could hold the balance of power in swing states.

The Hill newspaper says that Democratic candidates are promising to address immigration reform in the next Congress, when they expect to hold bigger majorities in the House and Senate and perhaps control the White House.

Exit polls from 2006 showed that Hispanics made up about 30 percent of voters in New Mexico, 13 percent of voters in Nevada, 12 percent in Arizona, and 11 percent in Florida.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

GAA players NY-bound despite lack of visas

Interesting piece by David McWilliams in the Irish Independent yesterday. McWilliams has devised what he calls a GAA club transfer index which shows the following:

In January, not one club player transferred to a club outside Ireland. This month, over one third of all transfers involved lads leaving the country and signing up for clubs in New York and London.
McWilliams reckons that this is the thin end of the wedge as young Irish men get back on the emigration trail. Well, all he needed to do was call the Aisling Center in New York to find that out. However, at the very least, McWilliams has started some realistic debate. There is an urgent need for a long-term and short-term solution for Irish immigrants in the US. And he has also shown Ireland needs an "ordinary" visa; one that will give the carpenter, nanny and office worker the same kind of opportunities as the guy with the PhD.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

FG's McHugh set for Democratic Convention

Seems that FG TD Joe McHugh is going to Colorado to lobby presidential hopeful Barack Obama on the immigration issue. We're not sure how successful this will be given that Trina Vargo's name is increasingly being bandied about as Obama's Irish liasion.

If Obama wants to reach out to the Irish how come he's not talking to the people behind the Irish American media? There has been no reach out to the publishers of the Irish Echo, Irish America magazine, or Irish Voice. A source from his campaign said he would bypass the Irish American media in favor of appealing to the Irish through their faith.

Far be it from us to point out that the last president to win the Irish vote by appealing to their religion was Ronald Reagan.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's the economy, stupid

A lot pf people have been on to me over the weekend over the piece posted last week after I got back from Ireland.
Seems there's a growing awareness in Ireland that there are hard times ahead and this is filtering out back here.
One woman was telling me that her family have decided to come out en masse for Christmas this year. She's been here for 14 years and has missed the past 13 family Christmases at home.
She said she was ready to move home earlier this year but decided to hold on until after the elections here.
Now she says that people back home are advising her to stay put because "you won't get any work back here."
"What's my choice now?" she said. "Stick it out here - where I have a good economic future if nothing else - or move home to a very uncertain economic future?"
It's amazing how much the undocumented Irish immigrants - as well as every other immigrant group - are contributing to the economy here. Pity Congress can't start looking at it that way.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ireland and America - Time to start talking

There's a lot of disquiet in the Irish American community over Obama's failure to reach out to Irish America. Great piece by Tom Hayden in the Huffington Post this week which we have posted below. Given the economic upheaval in Ireland, now would be the time for an Irish American initiative which will bring both countries closer together. As others have often noted; Irish people are closer to those in Britain, Australia and the US. Unfortunately for those of us concerned with Irish American ties, it's simple for an Irish person to move to Britain or Australia. It's almost impossible for an Irish person to move here - or indeed, for an American with Irish ties to move to Ireland.

Back from Ireland

It's nice to know so many people actually read the blog! There have been tons of emails complaining about the shortage of postings over the past few weeks. They don't call August the "silly season" for nothing you know!

Anyway, I was in Ireland for a few weeks and the outlook is pretty grim there (and that's not including the incessant rain). The father of a friend of mine had to deplete his savings to pay for an operation in a private hospital. He's 89 and he was looking at a 12-month waiting list for a public bed. Doesn't matter that he's worked in Ireland his whole life and paid hundreds of thousands of euro in taxes. Back to the end of the line for him.

Jobs-wise, the bottom has fallen out of the market. People are being asked to take pay cuts, raises have been frozen, interest rates are going up, and they're even talking about bringing back college fees. You know things are bad when they go after the easy targets.

O'Bama and Irish America

From the Huffington Post
By Tom Hayden

Barack Obama needs the huge Irish-American vote in closely-fought Pennsylvania battlegrounds like Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia suburbs. There are similar pockets of Irish American swing voters in other key states. But this Irish dimension is so far being lost or downplayed in the prevailing political discourse about whiteness or Catholicism, and Obama himself has stumbled in his outreach efforts.

Interviews with journalists, political leaders and activists in Belfast this week - including some whose publications are widely read in Pennsylvania - revealed widespread interest in Obama's candidacy but also concerns about his approach to white ethnics like the Irish.

For example, Hillary Clinton was "treated like a queen" by Irish throngs during Pittsburg's St. Patrick's Day parade, according to Larry Kirwan, while Obama went missing. In his fabled Berlin speech in July, Obama declared that the walls between Catholics and Protestants had come down in Northern Ireland, when in fact the barriers separating communities have increased since the Good Friday Agreement. Obama's top adviser on Northern Ireland, Trina Vargo, recently left the campaign after being involved in sharp public disputes with the Irish immigration lobby in Washington.

Vargo, a former adviser to Sen. Edward Kennedy, has been replaced in the Obama campaign by Carol Wheeler, whose background includes involvement in children's charities. Wheeler denies this account, saying she is an "addition", not a replacement, and is now the "voluntary coordinator for Irish American outreach" and works with the campaign staffer who does "advocacy outreach.". In any event, Vargo's falling out with Niall O'Dowd, who was a major Hillary Clinton backer and a central force in Irish immigrant politics, has been a divisive setback.

After Vargo openly criticized Irish immigrant advocates for being racist in seeking special treatment, O'Dowd answered in the Irish Times that Vargo "should stick to Hollywood galas and stop insulting Irish illegal migrants to the US who are trying to regularize their positions." [Nov. 20, 2007]. O'Dowd's position, supported by every Irish-American group, is that should seek to regularize their immigrant status, as they have on occasion in the past, while at the same time supporting an alliance of all immigrant groups pursuing comprehensive reform.

On another vital Irish issue, "We need America to be a watchdog against extremist behavior" in Northern Ireland, says Mairtin O'Muilleor, a prominent publisher in both Northern Ireland and the US. O'Muilleor cited the recent episode in Belfast in which Iris Robinson, wife of First Minister Peter Robinson, castigated a Gay Pride parade and proposed therapy as an alternative cure. No one from the US spoke out, O'Muilleor noted, even though the American government is an important party to the Good Friday Agreement. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party [DUP], which Robinson represents, has deep historical ties with the US Republican Party and evangelical Christians.

More important, O'Muilleor stressed, the peace agreement needs to be "cemented with jobs", especially in the heavily-Republican and Loyalist neighborhoods which suffered most during the 30-year war. Investment, however, is skewed heavily towards Protestant-dominated institutions and neighborhoods, even though a Sinn Fein leader, Tom Hartley, is the mayor of Belfast and Sinn Fein is the city's largest party. In a response Obama could endorse, the New York City controller's office has initiated pension fund investments in disadvantaged communities of Belfast, a move that may be copied by other US officials, O'Muilleor said.

These are proposals that Obama could support as a candidate, which would resonate in Irish-American communities, O'Muellior argues.

The point he and others make is that there is an Irish-American vote to be won through concrete steps to recognize the distinct needs of the Irish, a path followed with great success for Bill and Hillary Clinton. The Clintons became heroes to the Irish on both sides of the ocean, starting with Clinton's bold support for a visa for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in 1992, a step that helped unlock the peace process of the later decade.

With the Clintons now supporting Obama, John McCain is vulnerable in Irish-America. This year he excoriated Adams and Sinn Fein at a huge Irish-American fundraising dinner with Adams in the audience. The diatribe was an echoing reminder of the ugly polarizations that preceded the peace process. McCain is out of step with that process. Even George Bush, according to the Irish, seems fully briefed in his diplomatic role in supporting the fragile process.

To ignore this Irish dimension serves to the advantage of the implicit Republican appeal on racial issues like affirmative action and religious issues like abortion. Winning more Irish Democrats and independents to Obama will require an understanding of the progressive dimensions of Irish-American culture, rooted in an immigrant working class experience and nationalist ethos.

Aside from producing some green O'Bama tee shirts earlier this year, the Obama campaign has not yet displayed the rhetoric or resources necessary to win its share of the Irish-American vote. Given the Electoral College, the November election may hinge on this redefinition of race and ethnicity.

TOM HAYDEN recently returned from one week in Belfast and Dublin. He is the author of Irish on the Inside [Verso].