Move to save IFI

By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

Efforts to avert the shutting down of the International Fund for Ireland are being stepped up on Capitol Hill, the Irish Echo has learned.

It's believed that support for the fund - which has disbursed money into hard pressed communities on both sides of the border for almost 30 years - is attracting backing from both Democratic and Republican politicians.

Any decision to discard the "sunset" clause, which would see the IFI shut up shop, would cut across controversial efforts by the Ireland-US Alliance to divert IFI funds to the Mitchell Scholarship program.

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It is believed that moves to keep the IFI going can be traced to a 2008 trip to Irland by Congressman Richie Neal and members of the Friends of Ireland.

During that visit, the Congress members heard repeated calls for the U.S. to maintain its $17 million annual commitment.

It now appears that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly and the head of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, Rep. Chris Smith have joined Congressman Neal and others in Congress in asking for the U.S. to continue support for the fund.

This stance is supported by Northern Ireland First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuiness.

This week, a raft of influential Irish Americans led by Irish American Democrats chief Stella O'Leary (herself tipped as the next U.S. observer to the fund) wrote to President Obama to request that support for the IFI continue.