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International Fund for Ireland

Letter to the Editor

Irish Times, April 6, 2010


Madam, - Lara Marlowe’s piece about the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), 17 March, was inaccurate and omitted important facts. 

Created in the 1980s, at the height of the Troubles in response to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the IFI was meant to bring the two communities together and provide economic assistance.  US taxpayers were to contribute to this fund for five years.  Twenty-five years later, nearly $500 million has been a pretty substantial contribution from the US taxpayer. Australia and New Zealand stopped funding the IFI some time ago.  The EU made its final commitment last year.   The IFI has simply run its natural course.

Ms. Marlowe wrote that I am one who has “led the campaign to dismantle the IFI” and that I “advocated using the funds for the George Mitchell scholarship programme … instead.”  Ms. Marlowe neglected to mention the fact that the Alliance sought funding for the Mitchell endowment only after the Chairman of the IFI repeatedly stated that the IFI would not seek any further funds as of 2010.  How could I therefore ‘lead the campaign to dismantle’ something they said they were dismantling themselves?  Furthermore, all indications from Capitol Hill were that it was ending contributions to the IFI.  And that has happened.  As this funding for Ireland was going from $17 million a year to zero, it made perfect sense for the US-Ireland Alliance to seek a contribution to the Mitchell endowment. 

Ms. Marlowe wrote that those who support re-instituting IFI funding make the argument that “areas which have benefited least from the peace process must continue to receive support ....”  I have long supported Northern Ireland, but I welcomed the ending of the IFI and I’m not alone in thinking that money spent on biking trails, hiking trails, cafes, youth hostels and retrofitting buildings to bring them up to environmental code, has done little to help ‘those who have benefited least from the peace process’.

Unemployment in Northern Ireland is lower than in the US overall; lower than even Massachusetts and New York, not to mention significantly lower than Nevada’s 14.2%.   There have been two paramilitary-related murders in Northern Ireland in nearly two years.  Those have been and should be condemned.  But as a comparison, in August 2010, it was reported that there were 273 homicides to date that year in Chicago alone and 81% of those were gang-related.  Would the taxpayers of Northern Ireland and Ireland wish to fund programs to bring together gangs in Chicago or help with economic development in Boston?  Or would they say, that is for America to do itself?


Trina Vargo is the president of the US-Ireland Alliance