Battle lines drawn

It was seemingly dead in the water, but the International Fund for Ireland might live again, in part by eluding the dreaded tag of “earmark.”

“The IFI plays an important role in promoting peace in the North and Peter King and I, and many of our colleagues, remain committed to ensuring the organization has the resources it needs to continue this effort.

“The U.S. has been instrumental in brokering and fostering peace in the North, and we can’t turn our backs on the issue now,” Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) told the Echo after a formal request to reinstate funding for the International Fund for Ireland was submitted to the House Appropriations Committee.

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The effort to resurrect the IFI is a bipartisan effort to include $17 million in the 2012 Budget via the U.S. State Department’s allocation.

Chairman of the Friends of Ireland in Congress, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is also behind the expenditure. The fund lost all of it’s 2011 contribution from the U.S. during debate over the stop gap government funding measure known as the Continuing Resolution.

Interestingly, several House Republicans in addition to King and including the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), are not considering the IFI request as an “earmark.”

A staff member for the Appropriations Committee said that because this does not benefit a Congress member’s own district or region, it was merely a funding “recommendation.”

A GOP staff member on the Appropriations Committee, who asked not to be identified, conceded that there are “some groups who think this request is an earmark, but because of precedent, the chairman is interpreting this not to be an earmark.

“We are only one leg of a three-legged stool, and we can fight to get bills passed, but they still have to go to conference, and they still have to be voted on by the Senate” the staff member cautioned.

As such, even bipartisan support does not mean smooth sailing for the restoration of Washington’s IFI funding, which the U.S. has maintained since the mid-1980s.

The House is currently cranking through the appropriation process for the 2012 Budget, but the Senate has yet to take up any funding measures.

Both the Senate and the House will be out for a prolonged August recess, and come the end of September, Congress will again have to enact stop gap funding measures, or continuing resolutions, to keep the government funded.

“It (the IFI funding) isn’t going to go anywhere,” said the high ranking aide in the House majority leadership on background and without elaboration.

“The request does have several Republicans as co-signers, but the GOP leadership is very keen to be seen as slashing just this type of foreign aid program as the U.S. economy continues in the doldrums.”

Against the backdrop of the new debate over the IFI, meanwhile, Stella O’Leary, U.S. observer to the fund, will be speaking at next week’s Irish Echo/Belfast Media Group New York, New Belfast conference in New York.