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Funding for IFI still looks possible

By Susan Falvella Garraty

Washington, D.C. - It being March a basketball analogy well applies. It has been a full court press in recent days that has resuscitated the chances for U.S. funding for the International Fund for Ireland.

The Irish Embassy in Washington played offense and is credited with expert lobbying efforts to potentially reclaim some funding for the IFI in the Continuing Resolution bill and also in next year's 2012 Budget.

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Long time congressional supporters including congressmen Richard Neal (D-MA) and Peter King (R-NY) were the defenders and helped soften up a determined cadre of Republicans who had vowed, with Fox anchor Glenn Beck cheering from the sidelines, to zero out any further funding for the IFI.

Although figures remain fluid, the $17 Million originally designated for the IFI for 2011 - which had been stricken from the Republican leaderships' budget proposal, has been reinserted into a short term Continuing Resolution which is expected to pass the House and Senate, thus keeping the U.S. Government operating for the next two weeks.

The actual final amount may be markedly reduced. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the spending measure, it is a victory that supporters of the IFI managed to carve out support for it and to also have its 2012 funding transferred into the State Department's budget, this is as opposed to the IFI's current presentation as a stand alone "earmark."

Republicans here even got an earful from Pat the Cope Gallagher (MEP) who contacted key members in the House to try and persuade them to restore funding.

"We've asked them to consider supporting it for another few years or so," Cope told Donegal-based Highland Radio.

The IFI was scheduled to wind down in 2010, but Dublin, Belfast, and London all re-thought the matter when it became apparent that the U.S. would actually withdraw its contribution.

The White House is also offering to fund its support. Just last month, President Obama's newly named observer to the fund, Daniel Hynes, joined in for the quarterly meeting. The International Fund for Ireland was established in 1986 and receives contributions from the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Former head of the Fund Willie McCarter told local reporters, "The IFI has been responsible for catering over 50,000 jobs in many areas where they have been badly needed." He said it offered hope for future across the country.

McCarter disagreed with opponents of the fund who have complained about everything from the administration costs to the worthiness of some grant recipients. Just how much the IFI could receive remains undetermined, but clearly its supporters have rallied to have something for its coffers.