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Flanagan to assess immigration reform prospects in D.C. visit

Minister Charlie Flanagan. RollingNews.ie

By Ray O’Hanlon

Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, is in Washington, D.C. today for a series of meetings with, what a department release calls “key Democratic and Republican contacts on Capitol Hill, senior figures in the U.S. Administration and other influential Irish-American contacts.’

Minister Flanagan’s visit will focus on the current situation in Northern Ireland and the ongoing political talks process.

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“Prospects for U.S. immigration reform will also arise for discussion,” said the release.

Minister Flanagan will meet separately with Congressmen Joseph Kennedy III, Paul Ryan, James Sensenbrenner, Richard Neal and other members of the Congressional Friends of Ireland group, and also with Senator Patrick Leahy.

Speaking ahead of the meetings, Minister Flanagan said: “The past year has shown the great value of engagement with our friends from Washington, including in the continuing process of talks in Northern Ireland which has included valuable U.S. input, especially by Senator Gary Hart.

“I’m glad to have this opportunity to sit down with friends from both sides of the aisle and brief them directly on the current state of play. I also look forward to hearing their views on how we might advance our shared U.S. immigration reform objectives.”

Later this week, Minister Flanagan will speak about Northern Ireland issues in New York with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland. Further discussions will take place Wednesday in Washington with representatives of the U.S. National Security Council, and senior members of Vice President Biden’s staff.

Wednesday evening on Capitol Hill, Minister Flanagan will address a special event to highlight the work of the International Fund for Ireland Speaking on the importance of the Fund, Minister Flanagan said: “I will take this opportunity to highlight once more how the IFI is an excellent policy instrument for building and sustaining peace in Northern Ireland, and how the solidarity and support of the U.S. on the journey to peace in Northern Ireland continues to be of immense value.”

The fund’s programs, he said, “seek to tackle the sectarian attitudes, fears and mistrust within and between communities that continue to limit progress towards a lasting peace and shared future.”

The minister is on a five day visit to the U.S. taking in New York and Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, he will deliver Ireland’s annual address to the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

With regard to immigration reform, there appears to be little for Minister Flanagan to discuss with Capitol Hill politicians beyond reiterating his government’s concern for the undocumented Irish.

When Speaker John Boehner visited Ireland in early July, Flanagan discussed the undocumented with the Ohio legislator, now just weeks short of retiring from Congress.

“I reiterated Ireland's concerns regarding the situation of the Irish undocumented in the U.S. and urged progress on legislative immigration reform,” Flanagan said at the time.

Interestingly however, NBC reported this week that a group of religious leaders who are proponents of immigration reform - while acknowledging that it would take a miracle to get the House of Representatives to vote on an immigration bill - “are praying House Speaker John Boehner was inspired enough by Pope Francis to make it happen.”

Minister Flanagan will have a chance while in Washington to better assess the chances of whether or not anything will happen in the next few weeks on the reform front as Speaker Boehner sees out his term of office.