Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
By Ray O’Hanlon
House Republicans are tomorrow gathering to choose a new leadership and a candidate for Speaker has previously placed the International Fund for Ireland in his crosshairs.
The big prize of Speaker of the House of Representatives is available after the announcement by John Boehner that he will be resigning at the end of this month.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy from California is the front-runner to win his party’s nomination to succeed Boehner.
One of his challengers is House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz from Utah, a congressman who has questioned the existence of the IFI.
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Chaffetz is seen as a long shot for the speakership but various reports take the view that he is playing a long game within the lately fractious House GOP ranks and is very much an up and coming figure.
“It’s my intention to come to the floor and stand in the well of the House and offer a standalone bill to strike funding for the International Fund for Ireland,” said Congressman Chaffetz in an interview with the Echo in 2012.
Chaffetz said at the time that he did not have anything against the fund or Ireland, he just believed the IFI had outlived its usefulness.
The IFI helped bring peace to Ireland, but in the current state of fiscal crisis, he argued that there was “no justification for spending taxpayer’s money” on it.
“It’s a non-functional program, and I’m not the only one who thinks that because I’ve done my homework. I met with the Irish ambassador and even he admitted freely that they’re winding it down,” Chaffetz said.
Irish Ambassador to the United States at the time, Michael Collins, responded by saying that he had met with Chaffetz eighteen months previously and he had indeed told the congressman that Dublin saw the IFI as “winding down.”
However, explained Collins, a great deal had changed in the year-and-a-half since the two had met, including a rise in sectarian incidents and a budgetary crisis in Ireland.
“Now there is support from Belfast with the Executive and the two governments [Irish and British] to continue to seek funding,” said Ambassador Collins.
Chaffetz, according to the 2012 Echo report, was unmoved by such an appeal and said the IFI represented a lot of what was wrong in American discretionary spending.
He said that just because a program had been started, it should not be continually renewed out of budgetary habit. There should not be a line item of money dedicated, he said, to pay for “Irish things, or Italian things or any other country just because it needs to be reviewed every year, and right now we have to strike the big and the small.”
“And just to be clear, I don’t have anything against the Irish, in fact I have some Irish in me,” Chaffetz said.
While indeed seen as a long-shot for the Speaker’s job, Rep. McCarthy’s star has dimmed in GOP ranks in recent days because of comments he made concerning the congressional Benghazi inquiry, comments that have turned out to be ammunition for Democratic Party critics of the probe.
Despite the 2012 pledge by Chaffetz, the International Fund for Ireland continues its work today.
Its website states: “The International Fund for Ireland is an independent international organisation which was established by the British and Irish Governments in 1986. Financed by contributions from the United States of America, the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Fund promotes economic and social advance, and encourages contact, dialogue and reconciliation between nationalists and unionists throughout Ireland.
“At its core, the Fund’s mission is to tackle the underlying causes of sectarianism and violence and to build reconciliation between people and within and between communities throughout the island of Ireland.”