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Battle for IFI

By Ray O'Hanlon

It was seemingly dead, but it might be a little early to write the obituary for the International Fund for Ireland.

Congressman Joe Crowley has called on the Republican leadership in Congress to resuscitate IFI funding which was pegged at $17.5 million but voted down earlier this month in both the House and Senate.

Crowley had called on the House Republican leadership not to eliminate funding which he described as "a dynamic multi-national program that has played an integral role" in promoting peace in Northern Ireland.

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"It is a mistake for the House Republican leadership to try to end U.S. support for the International Fund for Ireland," said Crowley, a Democrat whose district straddles Queens and the Bronx.

"Targeting this program for elimination in its entirety sends the wrong signal at the wrong time. The United States has played an integral role in brokering and fostering peace in the North, and we can't be turning our backs on this effort now. I urge my colleagues to carefully study the situation in Ireland before rushing into a decision that could have dire consequences," he said.

Crowley's appeal coincides with an effort by IFI chairman, Dennis Rooney, to revive funding for a program that he says is too important for Ireland's future to abandon now.

Rooney outlines his position in an article on Page 6 of this issue.

"I was very disappointed with some of the charges leveled against the Fund by those advocating the end of U.S. support. It has been suggested that the funding is wasted on pet local projects which our local government will not fund and that a portion is used for administrative purposes.

"This is wrong and very hurtful because the Fund has an enviable track record, recognized internationally, for the effectiveness of its programs and their contribution to the Peace Process," Rooney writes in part.

In addition to the efforts of Crowley and Rooney, Washington-based IFI deputy observer, Stella O'Leary, was this week petitioning Irish American GOP representatives in Washington, including Peter King, chairman of the Friends of Ireland, Chris Smith and Tim Murphy.

O'Leary is hoping that the IFI killing language included in the Continuing Resolution that is currently keeping federal government spending operations up and running be removed. The resolution runs out on April 8.

"From the Belfast agreements in 1998 to the Hillsborough Castle agreement last year, successive United States administrations have shown their commitment to the peace process in the North," said Rep. Crowley.

"The IFI is a model for how to help end conflict. It helps bring together people from all sides of the political divide to ensure that there is understanding that problems can worked out through politics instead of violence. This is pennies compared to the amount we have spent on international wars, and it is much more effective," he said.

Crowley, a co-chair of the congressional Ad hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, said that importance of supporting the IFI was underlined by a recent increase in the threat of violence. The threat level in Northern Ireland was currently severe, he said, and a bomb recently abandoned in Belfast could have killed hundreds of people.

The IFI, established in 1986, is a multinational fund that helps build reconciliation between nationalists and unionists throughout Ireland. It plays a major role in creating conditions for peace in Northern Ireland through funding grassroots programs on conflict reconciliation, education, youth involvement and economic development.

The U.S., European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all contributed to the fund.