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Gulf apparent as IFI goes another round

By Susan Falvella Garraty

[caption id="attachment_22229" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Senator Kirsten Gillibrand"]


The House and Senate have passed a continuing resolution bill that will keep the U.S. government running until March 4, 2011.

And included in the final bill is $15 million dedicated to the International Fund for Ireland.

The Senate approved the measure in a 79-16 vote on Tuesday, while the House followed with a 193-165 vote on Wednesday.

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Although many will express relief that the funding will come through for another, there are those who are opposed to continued dollars going to support the IFI.

"The program has outlived its usefulness," proclaimed the president of Citizens Against Government Waste, Thomas Schatz in an interview with the Echo.

He said at one time there might have been good reason for the U.S. taxpayer to contribute money to help the Irish find a lasting and meaningful peace after years of discord, but that is not the case any longer.

"The American people are saying 'why should we be giving money to Ireland when there's peace?'"

As reported in the Echo last June, there is a stand alone bill in the U.S. House of Representatives authored by freshman Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). The bill would prohibit any more U.S, funding for the IFI. The bill remains in committee, but could be taken up when the new Congress comes in with the Republicans in the majority in the House.

Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) concurs with Chaffetz and also the incoming House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA) who wants U.S. contributions to cease.

A CAGW press release regarding the IFI noted that some of the money contributed to the IFI ended being spent on "fashion shows," and described the IFI as being poorly administered.

Earlier this year, the head of the US-Ireland Alliance, Trina Vargo, also suggested the IFI was no longer worthy of US funding and recommended instead that Congress could show its support for Ireland by helping to fund the George Mitchell Scholarships with what normally is spent on the IFI. That funding proposal was not put forward in any form of legislation, but Vargo still believes there no longer should be U.S. funding of the IFI.

She wrote on her blog this week, "A regular problem in the peace process was that people often didn't know when to claim victory and move on. Friends of Ireland should let the IFI die a quiet death - otherwise, they will put everyone associated with the IFI in the unenviable position of having to answer to the litany of waste."

Schatz says Congress must stop funding items in a pro forma fashion because the U.S. can no longer afford such extravagance in the global economic climate.

"One of the problems we have is that someone will say that we have 15 million going for 'Irish' causes, so let's just change it into something else 'Irish' as opposed to saying let's just stop spending the money that we really don't have."

On the face of such opposition, however, there is considerable Irish American support for the IFI and this is reflected in the latest pitch for funding spearheaded in the U.S. Senate by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and John Kerry of Massachusetts.

In a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, outgoing chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations & Related Agencies and its current ranking member, Sen. Judd Gregg, Gillibrand and Kerry stated that they were writing "to ask that you fund" the International Fund for Ireland at an appropriate level in the FY 2011 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill.

Wrote Gillibrand and Kerry in part: "Funding for this important program was originally not included in the President's budget request due to a previously anticipated termination of its activities. However, that was before a series of violent events and rising communal tensions in Northern Ireland showed the continuing social and economic instability that threaten to undermine the peace process we have all worked hard to support.

"Now that the Hillsborough agreement has been signed, we must support this important step toward institutional building with programs designed to address urgent needs on the ground."

The two senators continue: "Through the years, the United States has demonstrated a strong commitment to the people of the island of Ireland by serving as the IFI's largest donor, contributing over $457 million.

"Our commitment has been based upon promoting the peace process and an end to sectarian violence. While much progress has been made since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the subsequent devolution of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, recent violence in Northern Ireland has unfortunately shown there is still much work to be done.

"Economic hardship, educational inequality, and inadequate access to safe and affordable housing undermine support in some sectors for continuing peace. It is simply premature to end our financial commitment while these challenges exist. It is imperative that we help the communities of Ireland build upon the recent political successes and promote shared opportunity for all people."

And they conclude: "The IFI's successes have earned it the support of leaders from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant. This is a testament to its effectiveness in bridging the traditional divisions that have separated Irish society for generations. The IFI has relied on support in Congress over recent years to ensure that we continue to make this investment in Ireland's future.

"Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we hope that you will work in your subcommittee to ensure that the United States continues our commitment to a lasting peace in Ireland."

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