By Susan Falvella Garraty
It's official. The International Fund for Ireland will not receive any U.S. monetary contribution this year. The fund was counting on receiving $17.5 million allocated by Congress, but those funds have repeatedly been stripped from the Continuing Resolutions that keep the U.S. government's budgetary commitment's funded.
Meanwhile, backers of the Mitchell Scholarship program are this week separately seeking U.S. funding to underpin the program's endowment.
With regard to the IFI and looking forward, the U.S. State Department is offering what is a tiny kernel of hope.
In a statement released to the Echo, State Department officials indicate that they will proffer a tiny contribution, but not until next year.
"We strongly support the peace process in Northern Ireland and efforts to foster economic revival in areas affected by the conflict. In the context of an austere budget environment, the requested FY2012 U.S. contribution of $2.5 million to the International Fund for Ireland is intended to promote the continuing peace and reconciliation process by addressing the roots of intolerance and violence through targeted economic development programs, and seeks to leverage financial contributions from other donors," the officials said.
In an interview with the Echo last week, the chair of the IFI, Denis Rooney, said he did not think the organization would be able to survive without the annual contribution of the United States. He was also asked if other donors could be "leveraged" as suggested by the State Department in its statement and he indicated disbelief that other donor donors would be able to fill the gaps.
The rescinding of the IFI's 2011 U.S. contribution was noted in the Washington Post with the headline: "No Green for Irish Group."
The fact that the IFI's own 2009 annual report stated: "As we enter 2010, we approach a new phase in the Fund's life. We will not be seeking any further international contributions after the end of 2010. As we prepare for new challenges, we remain focused on delivering interventions which will be sustainable long after the Fund ceases to exist," was grounds for dismal of the funding, said the Post.
Into the breach, meanwhile, is a proposal by the US-Ireland Alliance for congressional funding of the George Mitchell Scholarship program.
Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-MA) has circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives asking for $5.75 million be put into the 2012 Appropriations Bill on behalf of the Mitchell Scholarship endowment.
The head of the US-Ireland Alliance, Trina Vargo, secured a commitment last year from the Irish government to match whatever funding came in for the endowment.
The Mitchell program brings on average twelve to fifteen students from the U.S. to study in Ireland on the graduate school level. The endowment would not pay operating costs for the scholarship, but rather install long term funding for the program.
Congressman Lynch writes in the letter, "We note that the United States' annual contribution to the International Fund for Ireland has ended. The IFI was established in the 1980s, as a result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and U.S. contributions to it were to be provided for five years.
"They have instead continued for a quarter century and American citizens have contributed more than $450 million to it. As the IFI has been receiving between $15 million and $20 million a year, by providing the US-Ireland Alliance with $5 million a year, for four years, we will demonstrate our continued support for the relationship while saving $48 million over the four years."
The letter from Lynch has received a negative response from one colleague. Former chairman of the Friends of Ireland group in Congress, and Lynch's fellow Massachusetts Democratic congressman, Richard Neal, said he would not support Lynch's effort on behalf of the Mitchell scholarships.
A request for comment by current Friends of Ireland chairman, Rep. Peter King, remained unanswered as the Echo went to press.