I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this issue. I know you have a personal interest in it following a parliamentary visit to the United States over the past few weeks when this issue was raised.
I wish to raise this disturbing issue because a number of my parliamentary colleagues who were in the US a few weeks ago were informed by the Irish community of the major crisis being experienced by young Irish emigrants who had applied for Walsh visas. My party colleague, Deputy Creed, was told that a number of young Irish people who were recipients of a Walsh visa found themselves in a pitiful position after a few short weeks in the US. A number of articles have appeared in theIrish Voice outlining the problems experienced by people on a Walsh visa and it is clear from those articles that a number of Irish people have been exploited by US companies which have paid poor wages and provided appalling accommodation.
This situation is made even more serious when one takes into account that Walsh visa recipients, who come from the Border region in the South and Northern Ireland, are also the unemployed, weaker and more vulnerable in our society. It is outrageous that we continue to highlight the major labour shortages here while allowing our people to participate in a scheme that sends some of them and their families to another jurisdiction to be exploited or paid slave wages.
An article in theIrish Voice, written by Garry O'Sullivan, stated
An official at the Emerald Isle Immigration Center (EIIC) in New York has claimed that the number of people leaving the Walsh visa program is now of "crisis proportions".
Ann Marie Scanlon, Director of Development for the EIIC, said that the center is taking the unprecedented step of setting up a fund for the "refugees" from the program and that it would be asking for donations from the public to help those in need.
Her comments came in a week when two Walsh Visas recipients slept rough in Central Park after a 40 hour trip from Colorado where they claim they were unfairly fired from the program.
A third Walsh visa recipient also in Colorado alleges police were called to arrest him by his employers after a dispute over a pay check. His story has been backed up by a local journalist. All three men were employed by a five star hotel in Colorado Springs.
The EIIC has been a critic of the implementation of Walsh Visa scheme since a Virginia company, Logicon, was appointed earlier this year by the State Department as the program co-ordinator . . .
Currently, Colorado is the second hub after Washington for Walsh Visa applicants. The Walsh Visa program is part of the Irish Peace Process Cultural Training Program. The program, sanctioned by the federal government in 1998, hopes to bring 12,000 visiting Irish workers to the United States over the next three years.
The jobs they participate in are intended to "help participants develop a business and cultural skill base which can attract international and private investments to their local economies and help promote the economic regeneration of Northern Ireland and the Border counties of the Republic of Ireland".
HOWEVER, there have been many problems, those in Colorado just the latest. Declan Keenan from Newry and Gerard Toland from Derry fled Colorado after their employment was terminated and were told that they would be flown home to Ireland. They hired a car to Denver and then took a 40-hour bus ride to New York. When their meager funds ran out, they took to sleeping in Central Park before seeking help from the Irish community.
They are just some of the problems that the people who are participating in this scheme have experienced. The scheme was set up to help people who are vulnerable in our society go to the United States to gain experience which will enable them to return home and help progress the economies in their own areas, but that is not happening.
I want to put three questions to the Government. I hope that an immediate investigation into these claims will be established. The Government should provide funding to all those participating in the visa programme who have and are encountering major difficulties in the US. Will the Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs investigate the reason this scheme allows a company called Logicon, which receives $3 million a year for the administration of the scheme—