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    Irish Abroad Unit outlines its work

    By admin | January 29, 2007

    The Irish Abroad Unit updated the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs about their work and the current status of Irish emigrants earlier this month. Their update focused on the achievements of 2006 and their plans for 2007.

    Ray Bassett of the Unit spoke of the possibility that immigration reform could be passed by the US Congress in September or October, but warned of the importance of caution in these matters. He paid tribute to the work of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, and said that the Irish presence has been helpful as part of the wider campaign for immigration reform aimed at the wider group of undocumented immigrants in the US.

    Mr Bassett also spoke of the improvements in the status of Irish emigrants in Britain with €40 million spent since 1984, 80% of that since 2000. The Simon Community credits increased funding for the fall in the number of Irish homeless from 600 to 100 since 1999.

    He spoke of establishing good links with the GAA, referring to its ability to bring community together as “sport plus social inclusion?. He also spoke of how the Unit has extended funding to Australia, Canada and Argentina, as well as South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Unit has been given €15.1 million for funding next year, an increase of €3 million.

    During the question period, Mr Bassett responded to the issue of free travel and broadcasting to emigrants by saying:

    On issues such as RTE, free travel, etc., the Government is in favour. It is a question of how we proceed from here. We have extended the centenarian’s bounty outside the State for those who reach 100 years of age. It will take imaginative thinking to get around some of the obstacles, but we are committed to work with the relevant Departments to assist these people. There is a political and administrative will to do it, but we need the mechanisms to get there.

    The update sparked a wide-ranging discussion on the status of the Irish around the world. Senators raised such issues as the special problems of Argentinians who feel a very strong link with Ireland and who would like to get citizenship, but who are too many generations removed under the current system. Senator David Norris spoke of a letter he had received from a young Irish man living in Paris who felt rejected by Ireland because he could not vote here. Senator Paschal Mooney raised the issue of differences between the professional Irish of the more recent generation of emigrants and the traditional Irish emigrants; he suggested there might be some sort of structure developed that would encourage the professional Irish to get involved with those from previous generations.

    For the full transcript, see the Oireachtas website.

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