Irish-American lobbyist criticises visa inaction

The head of the Irish group lobbying for immigration reform in the US has criticised the Department of Foreign Affairs for its lack of support and said he feels “isolated” because of the inaction of the Government.

Ciarán Staunton, who fronts the influential Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, also accused the Government of being too old-fashioned in its approach and more concerned with diplomacy rather than pushing for real change.

“When it comes to the politics of Washington most people are using the iPhone. But the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Irish Embassy are still using the rotary dial-up,” said Mr Staunton.

“The policies have never changed. What happens when you have the permanent government situation, the script is the same.

“We can only advise them. We’re Irish-American and they’re a foreign government but ultimately they can open doors.”

With or without Dublin’s support, Mr Staunton said, he has no choice but to push the Irish-American agenda into uncharted territories across the 50 states.

Sen Edward Kennedy’s Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended the discrimination of country-by-country immigration quotas but, in the opinion of Kennedy himself, speaking two years before he died in 2009, inadvertently discriminated against the Irish.

“No Irish government has ever used that sort of language,” said Mr Staunton. “Official Ireland has been very reluctant — I don’t think they’ve ever addressed the 1965 Act. The department [Foreign Affairs] have been the weak link. There’s a mentality of ‘let’s not talk about it, let’s not ask’. One of the things in Washington is that you always have to be looking, you always have to be pushing.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs defended its role in the battle to document the 50,000 Irish illegally in the US.

The Government has funded the immigration reform lobby to the tune of €324,637 since 2006.

On a recent visit to DC, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said efforts to address theissue have been ongoing since he took office in early 2011.

Meanwhile, incoming Irish ambassador to the US, Anne Anderson, who will become the first woman in the job when she moves from her UN role in New York to Washington at the end of August, said last week that she will be reaching out to the Republican legislatures who need to be convinced of the merits of immigration reform.

- Following the death of his 12-year-old son last year from septic shock, Mr Staunton set up the Rory Staunton Foundation, which is aiming to federally regulate diagnosis of septic shock.

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