We should be wary of interfering in the internal affairs of the US

THE Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, spent the last week in the US meeting Irish immigrant groups and lobbying American politicians to help the 25,000 undocumented Irish immigrants in the light of new legislation being considered by the US Congress.

Senators John McCain of Arizona and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts have proposed a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary working visas for six years.

Afterwards they would become eligible for permanent visas if they stayed out of trouble, learned English and paid a $2,000 fine. Representatives Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, two Arizona Republicans, proposed the same bill in the House of Representatives.

The McCain-Kennedy Bill is clearly bipartisan, but nobody should be deluded into thinking that supporting it is therefore non-partisan. Legislation usually has cross-party sponsors in Congress.

The whole thing is really about Mexican immigration to the US, not illegal Irish immigrants. Three of the four main sponsors of the legislation are from Arizona, which is one of the crossing points for Mexicans entering the US illegally.

Ted Kennedy has a good record on humanitarian issues, but his kind of liberalism is anathema to Republicans, as well as more than a few within his own party. John McCain is primarily concerned about illegal Mexican immigrants.

Last year 300 Mexicans died trying to get into the US; two-thirds of them perished in the desert of McCain’s home state of Arizona.

The total number of undocumented Irish immigrants is estimated at around 25,000, which is virtually insignificant when compared with the estimated nine million illegal Mexicans in the US.

In the last analysis the main political consideration will be nine million Mexicans, not 25,000 Irish.

Of course, that does not mean that some of politicians are not trying to attract Irish-American support. Most Irish-Americans think of themselves strictly as Americans. The Irish prefix is indicative of their ancestry, not their loyalty. But they do have an attachment to Ireland and a folk memory of their starving ancestors fleeing to the US. Those ancestors were not exactly welcomed with open arms, but this is all the more reason now that descendants could be persuaded to take a particular interest in the current plight of Irish immigrants, even if they constitute only a fraction of the overall problem.

Dermot Ahern has been generally sure-footed in dealing with the US. He has not allowed those trying to distort our supposed neutrality to block US flights to Iraq passing through Shannon, and he has obtained solemn assurances that the US is not transporting prisoners to Guantanamo through this country.

“If a government of the stature of the US government, which has such a connection with this country, gives us an absolute assurance in this regard, we accept it,” he told the Dáil. “Every time this matter has been raised in the media and in this House my officials have contacted the US embassy and people in Washington, and on every occasion they have said there has been no such transiting. They have said that they do not intend to do so and that if they did, they would ask the Irish authorities about that.”

Mr Ahern was responsible for the gesture in providing money and personnel for relief of distress in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. In the overall context it was essentially only a token gesture. But at least it was a positive move in marked contrast with the asinine attitude and fatuous comments of his critic John O’Shea. But one wonders what prompted the minister to introduce a resolution in the Oireachtas endorsing the McCain-Kennedy Bill. The extraordinary resolution was passed unanimously by the Oireachtas, but it has the potential of doing more harm than good.

Americans traditionally resent foreign interference in their domestic political affairs. This country effectively used the Americans to stay out of World War II.

Churchill wished to seize Irish bases, but he dared not act because of the likely repercussions in the US.

THE Roosevelt administration was particularly resentful when de Valera sent Frank Aiken to America, and he associated openly with Roosevelt’s main political opponents. Believing that de Valera would try to involve Americans in the partition issue after the war, Roosevelt’s people came up with a scheme to discredit de Valera by smearing him as pro-Nazi. This was done by getting him to refuse to expel Axis diplomats who were depicted as a threat to the lives of US soldiers.

On April 30, 1945 the Americans asked to be allowed to seize the German legation in Dublin on the crazy pretext of getting German codes in case U-boats continued the war in the Atlantic.

The whole thing was just a ploy to get another refusal from de Valera, but he then played into American hands himself the next day by proffering condolences to the German minister on learning of the death of Hitler. The Americans succeeded in discrediting de Valera to the extent that much of the world still thinks this country was at best indifferent to the Allied cause. A great many people here think we were actually neutral, whereas de Valera secretly gave the Allies all the help he could. Hence we have no real tradition of neutrality.

Last week a memoir by Seán MacBride was published in which he admitted interfering in American affairs as minister for external affairs from 1948 to ‘51.

“I had serious hopes of being able to build up pressure on the White House from Congress,” he explained. “I had hopes that I might be able to get something tangible done in regard to partition.”

In reality, he never had a chance because Americans had been led to believe that while the unionists at Stormont had provided bases during the war, Dublin was supposedly selfishly indifferent, if not secretly hostile, to the Allied cause.

There are at least three different bills currently before Congress dealing with the issue of illegal immigrants. It would have been understandable if the Oireachtas resolution called for specific help for the illegal immigrants, but it went further. It specifically expressed “strong support for the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act introduced on 12 May, 2005 in the US Senate by Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator John McCain and in the US House of Representatives by Rep. Jim Kolbe and Rep. Jeff Flake.”

Whatever about his influence in the Democratic party, Ted Kennedy has little appeal among the Republicans, who control the White House and both houses of Congress. John McCain is a Republican who opposed George W Bush for the presidency.

Hence the McCain-Kennedy Bill would not seem to have much chance of ultimate success. So why has the minister run the risk of offending Americans by interfering so blatantly in their internal affairs? Is the whole thing just a political stunt to impress people at home?

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