Undocumented Irish in the USA

Questions (78)

Brendan Smith

Question:

78. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress to date of the immigration reform bill in the US Congress; the plans he has to advance this initiative with the United States authorities in regard to the position of the undocumented Irish; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41481/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

This is an issue I treat with the very highest priority. During my visit to the US last week, I spoke with several key contacts in the US Congress including leading members of the House Judiciary Committee, Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, Pete King. I also met with representatives of Irish community groups as well as some community members who are undocumented. I am acutely aware of the difficulties they face as a result of their undocumented status. I am more determined than ever to continue to work to find a solution to their plight. A resolution of the situation facing the undocumented Irish in the United States remains a priority for the Government. The Government also attaches great importance to seeking provision for future flows of migration between Ireland and the United States through the extension of the “E-3” visa scheme to include Irish citizens. In this context, we very much welcomed the US Senate’s approval of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Bill by a 68-32 margin on 27 June last.

The comprehensive draft legislation, which was drafted over several months by a bipartisan group of eight US Senators, provides for extensive reform of the US immigration system. It includes provisions that would legalise the status of undocumented Irish people and provide a path to permanent residency. It also provides for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US via the proposed E-3 visa. The Bill is a very positive development. Its provisions, if adopted, would help to end the great hardship and uncertainty faced by undocumented Irish in the US and their families here in Ireland. The inclusion of a new provision to allow several thousand Irish citizens to legally avail of employment opportunities in the US every year is also particularly welcome.

The focus has now shifted to the House of Representatives for its consideration of the issues. It remains to be seen whether a consolidated Bill can be agreed between the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is generally accepted that securing overall agreement will remain a complex and challenging process, particularly at a time when Congress is preoccupied by budgetary and debt issues. This was clear from my discussions last week and I believe the challenge to secure agreement has become even greater in recent times. I am determined to continue to deploy all our resources at political, diplomatic and Irish community level to make progress on this vital issue.

In addition to my contacts last week in New York, I visited Washington DC on 11-12 July and held a series of meetings on Capitol Hill, including with key members of the House of Representatives and Senate, with the US Administration and with Irish-American community representatives. I reiterated throughout all these contacts the Government’s interest in all aspects of immigration reform and in particular our interest in seeing an overall agreement reached which provides relief for currently undocumented Irish migrants and a facility for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US.

I wish to acknowledge the critically important role being played by a number of Irish community organisations, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. I also want to acknowledge the role played by Ambassador Collins and more recently by Ambassador Anderson and staff at the Embassy in Washington who have been steadily building support for our objectives.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Question No. 80 answered with Question No. 20

Questions (79)

Joe McHugh

Question:

79. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed with senior American politicians the likelihood that deportation of all persons who live in the USA without documentation would cost the American exchequer $285 billion; whether he has emphasised the potential that persons without documentation have to contribute to the American economy; if he will update Dáil Éireann on his engagements on behalf of Irish citizens who live in the USA without documentation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41270/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

This is an issue I treat with the very highest priority. During my visit to the US last week, I spoke with several key contacts in the US Congress including leading members of the House Judiciary Committee, Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, Pete King. I also met with representatives of Irish community groups as well as some community members who are undocumented. I am acutely aware of the difficulties they face as a result of their undocumented status. I am more determined than ever to continue to work to find a solution to their plight.

A resolution of the situation facing the undocumented Irish in the United States remains a priority for the Government. The Government also attaches great importance to seeking provision for future flows of migration between Ireland and the United States through the extension of the “E-3” visa scheme to include Irish citizens. In this context, we very much welcomed the US Senate’s approval of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Bill by a 68-32 margin on 27 June last. The comprehensive draft legislation, which was drafted over several months by a bi-partisan group of eight US Senators, provides for extensive reform of the US immigration system. It includes provisions that would legalise the status of undocumented Irish people and provide a path to permanent residency. It also provides for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US via the proposed E-3 visa.

The Bill is a very positive development. Its provisions, if adopted, would help to end the great hardship and uncertainty faced by undocumented Irish in the US and their families here in Ireland. The inclusion of a new provision to allow several thousand Irish citizens to legally avail of employment opportunities in the US every year is also particularly welcome.

The focus has now shifted to the House of Representatives for its consideration of the issues. It remains to be seen whether a consolidated Bill can be agreed between the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is generally accepted that securing overall agreement will remain a complex and challenging process, particularly at a time when Congress is preoccupied by budgetary and debt issues. This was clear from my discussions last week and I believe the challenge to secure agreement has become even greater in recent times. I am determined to continue to deploy all our resources at political, diplomatic and Irish community level to make progress on this vital issue.

In addition to my contacts last week in New York, I visited Washington DC on 11-12 July and held a series of meetings on Capitol Hill, including with key members of the House of Representatives and Senate, with the US Administration and with Irish-American community representatives. I reiterated throughout all these contacts the Government’s interest in all aspects of immigration reform and in particular our interest in seeing an overall agreement reached which provides relief for currently undocumented Irish migrants and a facility for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US.

I wish to acknowledge the critically important role being played by a number of Irish community organisations, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. I also want to acknowledge the role played by Ambassador Collins and more recently by Ambassador Anderson and staff at the Embassy in Washington who have been steadily building support for our objectives.

Question No. 80 answered with Question No. 20.

EU Enlargement

Questions Nos. 82 and 83 answered with Question No. 32

Questions (81, 91)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

81. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will set out the ongoing progress in respect of European enlargement; the degree to which any particular obstacles have been identified in the process in respect of any potential member; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41381/13]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

91. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the degree to which the situation in the western Balkans continues to remain central to future EU enlargement negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41391/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 81 and 91 together.

Enlargement remains one of the European Union’s most successful policies, fostering peace, stability and prosperity, and the Western Balkans region remains central to enlargement policy. Already this year, in addition to Croatia’s accession, we have seen significant progress in relation to Serbia and Kosovo in particular. In June, under the Irish Presidency, the EU agreed to open accession negotiations with Serbia and to begin negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo. This agreement came in recognition of the progress achieved in the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and, in particular, the agreement on principles governing the normalisation of relations between the two countries.

The EU agreed to hold the first intergovernmental conference with Serbia, to officially begin accession negotiations, by January 2014 at the very latest, on the basis of a negotiating framework to be adopted by the European Council later this year. The European Commission is also making preparations to begin negotiations with Kosovo on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), a significant milestone on Kosovo’s European path.

Meanwhile, accession negotiations are continuing with Montenegro. Under the Irish Presidency, we opened a new chapter in talks with Montenegro and work is underway towards the opening, later this year, of the two key chapters relating to the judiciary, fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security. In neighbouring Albania, the new Government has made gaining EU candidate status a political priority. The European Commission will, later this month, give its assessment of the reform process in Albania and, on that basis, consider whether Albania could be granted candidate status. In Macedonia, while there have been some positive developments in the domestic reform process and in good neighbourly relations, there has also been negative fallout from the political crisis at the end of last year. We await the European Commission’s detailed assessment of the situation and whether, in the Commission’s view, enough progress has been made to recommend opening of accession negotiations.

There has been a disappointing lack of progress in the delivery by the leadership in Bosnia and Herzegovina on important reforms, for example, on bringing the constitution into line with a key ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. The EU has made clear the reforms needed in order to realise the country’s EU perspective. The EU needs to examine what else can be done to encourage the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward with reforms. As I have stated before, I believe this can best be done in the context of the review of the mandate of the EU’s Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, I would continue to emphasise that while we will do everything in our power to encourage movement on the path to EU integration, this is ultimately a matter for the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In relation to Turkey, the accession progress was reinvigorated earlier this year when, under the Irish Presidency, it was agreed to open a new chapter (on regional policy) in accession talks. The opening of this chapter will take place at an intergovernmental conference later this year. Ireland’s view remains that greater EU engagement through the accession progress with Turkey is the best way to ensure delivery of reform.

Finally, in relation to Iceland, we note the decision of the Icelandic Government to put negotiations with the EU on hold until an assessment of the negotiations and developments within the EU has been made, and a referendum takes place.

Later this month, the European Commission will bring forward its annual progress report on enlargement. This will provide the basis for discussion among EU member states on the prospects for progress in each case and for the adoption of conclusions at the European Council in December. Ireland remains a strong supporter of EU enlargement and we look forward to working with each country on their respective European path. As for particular obstacles identified, we have always stated that enlargement is a conditional process; prospective member states must themselves achieve progress on reforms in order to move forward on their EU paths.

Questions Nos. 82 and 83 answered with Question No. 32.

Syrian Conflict

Questions (84)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

84. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps taken by the European Union, United Nations and the worldwide community to intervene in a positive way in the ongoing situation in Syria, with particular reference to the need to safeguard the lives of innocent civilians and children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41384/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The crisis in Syria dominated discussions at the UN General Assembly last week which I attended and formed one of the principal themes in my address to the General Assembly on 28 September.I have consistently argued that the UN and the Security Council must be central to any efforts to resolve this crisis and ensure that international law and basic human rights are upheld. Despite the long delay in reaching this stage, I welcome the decisive action the Security Council has now taken on Syria. Full implementation of the provisions for the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons and full compliance by Syria with its obligations is now imperative. Ireland has pledged €200,000 in funding to support the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, assisted by the UN, in implementing these arrangements.

The Security Council has also called for the early convening of the Geneva II peace conference, hopefully by mid-November. Syria’s conflict can only be resolved politically, not militarily. Peace can only come through all Syrians engaging in a genuine, representative and inclusive process to agree a new political dispensation in their country.

I also welcome the Security Council’s clear call for accountability for what has occurred in Syria. I have long called for these crimes to be referred to the ICC which exists precisely for this purpose. Ireland is playing its part in the international effort to meet the massive needs both inside Syria and in the wider region, having contributed almost €11 million to fund relief efforts to date. On a per capita basis, we are one of the most generous contributors in the world to the Syria humanitarian crisis. Ireland has also been consistent in our efforts at EU and international levels to highlight the grave humanitarian dimensions of the crisis and the need for the international community to meet its obligations in providing life-saving assistance to Syria and neighbouring countries. Minister of State Costello will travel to the region in early October to assess the current situation on the ground.

Conflict Resolution

Questions (85)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

85. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he and his EU and UN colleagues continually monitor the situation in the Horn of Africa, with particular reference to war, famine and human rights violations; if any particular issue has manifested itself in recent times by way of escalation of the threat to civilians; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41385/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Despite progress on the political and security fronts in Somalia over the past year, the recent tragic events in Kenya underline the complexity of the challenges facing the people and Governments of the Horn of Africa region. I visited the area in July 2012 to see at first hand the situation on the ground, and I have worked to ensure that it remains high on the EU and UN agendas. Current estimates suggest close to 2.5 million people in Ethiopia, 1.1 million people in Kenya, 1.05 million people in Somalia, and over 200,000 people in Djibouti remain vulnerable to food insecurity and require humanitarian assistance. While the influx of Somalis fleeing into the Dadaab refugee camp in north-east Kenya has decreased, it remains the largest refugee camp in the world with some 425,000 refugees.

There are over one million Somali refugees across the region, who depend entirely on humanitarian aid. Continuing instability in parts of southern Somalia remains a major obstacle to the delivery of aid and has serious implications for border regions and nearby refugee camps. We are following the political and humanitarian situation closely, through our Embassies in the region, notably in Addis Ababa, and in close coordination with our international and NGO partners. Together with other donor countries, we have worked particularly closely with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to put in place new systems to improve the way in which aid is delivered and to ensure that coordination on the ground is improved through enhanced monitoring systems.

Ireland’s direct engagement in the region has demonstrated that emergency assistance can effectively address health, nutrition, and water and sanitation needs, but cannot prevent future crises. Ireland will therefore continue to work on long-term programmes to build resilience and address the needs of the most vulnerable across the region. Ireland has provided over €290 million in development and humanitarian funding to the Horn of Africa since 2007. We will continue to engage actively at EU and international level in pushing for a strongly coordinated approach to the humanitarian situation in the Horn.

The situation in the region is reviewed regularly at meetings of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which I attend. The EU is continuing to implement vigorously its Comprehensive Strategy for the Horn of Africa which was adopted in 2011 and which covers the entire region including the situations in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Kenya. It addresses all dimensions on the different crises in the region including conflict, underdevelopment, and issues related to governance and human rights. An over-arching role in implementation of the strategic approach is given to the EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, Alex Rondos, who reports regularly to Ministers.

Progress has been made on regional security with the support of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy missions, including the EU Training Mission in Somalia, the EU anti-piracy naval mission, and the regional maritime capacity-building mission, EUCAP Nestor. Ireland is making an important contribution to these EU efforts by providing the Commander and a significant contingent of personnel for the EU Training Mission in Somalia, which is building the capacity of the Somali National Security Forces to enable them to take over responsibility for security and law and order.

The EU also provides very significant humanitarian, development and economic support across the Horn of Africa, in close cooperation with regional bodies, including the African Union. The EU SHARE initiative (Supporting the Horn of Africa’s Resilience) has been developed in light of the 2011 crisis as a result of food shortages and conflict, and promotes a strongly integrated approach to vulnerable communities in the region.

Last week, Ireland participated in the debate at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on the situation Somalia and Sudan, and highlighted concerns about human right violations in both countries, while welcoming the significant progress which has been made in Somalia in particular in the past twelve months. It is clear that progress in the Horn of Africa will require a strong focus on human rights and an enabling environment for civil society. This will remain a priority area for Ireland’s engagement with the countries of the region, and internationally.

EU Membership Issues

Questions (86)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

86. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade about the extent to which he and his EU colleagues have discussed the implications for this country, Northern Ireland, the UK and the entire European Union in the event of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the EU; the extent to which public confidence in the EU project will prevail in the interim period prior to the holding of a UK referendum on the issue; if any particular steps are needed to minimise the damage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41386/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

We and other member states are actively monitoring the issue on an ongoing basis, and continue to discuss it with our UK colleagues. I believe the UK's interests are best served by remaining an influential member of the EU. The EU as a whole is better and stronger with the UK in it. It is also in Ireland's interests that the UK remains a fully committed member. While we disagree on some issues, the UK remains an important ally on many aspects of EU policy, including areas such as trade liberalisation on which we collaborated during Ireland's recent EU Presidency term.