Quid pro quo
By Ray O'Hanlon
An anticipated deal that would result in Shannon Airport becoming a clearance facility for the U.S. Customs should be contingent on relief for the undocumented Irish in America, according to Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh.
McHugh accused the Fianna Fáil-dominated government of "once again" neglecting the undocumented Irish in the U.S. by missing "a golden opportunity" to bring up their plight with the Bush administration.
McHugh pointed to recent reports that the Irish and U.S. governments were close to a deal allowing the U.S. to use Shannon as a customs and security clearance facility but, despite the high level contacts, Fianna Fáil, he said, had "refused" to bring up the issue of the undocumented Irish.
"Once again the Irish government is going to make a deal with the
Americans over Shannon and the issue of the undocumented Irish in America has not been brought to the table. This subject was debated in the Dáil and we were assured that the government would make every effort to help those in America, but this is clearly not the case," the Donegal Dáil Deputy alleged.
McHugh said he understood that Minister Noel Dempsey and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had been in negotiations aimed at opening a U.s. security clearance and customs facility at the County Clare airport.
"Senior Fianna Fáil ministers assured us all that every opportunity would be used to promote the campaign of the Irish in the United States yet, despite this massive opportunity," Fianna Fáil neglected to bring up this issue," McHugh stated.
And he added: "Irish people are living like escaped felons in America. All they want to do is pay their taxes and be able to live their lives in a normal way. If the Fianna Fáil government cared enough, they would use this opportunity to bargain with the Americans but once again they have failed the families of those in America.
"Life as an illegal citizen is deteriorating by the week, with reports of hundreds of deportations each month. Many cannot risk coming home, even for their parents' funerals, because they will be caught and deported. If the Irish government applied enough pressure on the U.S., this deplorable situation would no longer occur."
Time and time again, said McHugh, Fianna Fáil ministers had talked a good game about fighting for the Irish in America but when push came to shove they had done nothing. "This Shannon contact is the latest example and it is the undocumented Irish who once again suffer as a result," he said.
McHugh referred indirectly to the fact that Shannon is already a major stopover for U.S. troops flying to and from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other destinations in the Middle East and Asia.
"Whether we like it or not, we helped the Americans with their war in Iraq, and it is high time we got something in return. Many will say that they invest millions in this country, but that is hardly out of goodwill. I am calling on the Fianna Fail government to help our Irish citizens in America and allow them to be home next Christmas," he said.
Expectations have been rising in recent months that the Irish government would seek to reach a bilateral visa deal with the U.S. though such a pact, some fear, would or could not actually cover the undocumented Irish.
This story appeared in the issue of January 2-8, 2008