The International Fund For Ireland Has Served Its Purpose
The Irish Echo
May 25, 2010
By Trina Vargo
Last year, the Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland wrote in his letter in the annual report of the IFI that it would seek no further contributions from the United States. Given the IFI’s decision, the US-Ireland Alliance has asked the US Congress to contribute to the George J. Mitchell Scholarship endowment. This prestigious scholarship, which is an open, nationwide competition, gives American students an opportunity to study on the island of Ireland and it is developing relationships, much like the Rhodes has built ties between the leaders of the UK and the US. The Congress, the Irish and Northern Ireland Governments, and every university on the island are partners in this successful, collaborative program.
From 1987 to 1998, I was Senator Ted Kennedy’s foreign policy adviser handling Ireland and Northern Ireland issues. In the mid-1980’s, as part of an effort to solidify the Anglo Irish Agreement, the IFI was created and the Congress agreed to give money to it for a period of five years. It has continued for 24 years and we have contributed more than $450 million to it. While the Fund did many good things in those early years, it became one of those taps that was never turned off. While I was still working with Senator Kennedy, he stopped requesting funding for the IFI. That was more than a decade ago. We had simply come to the conclusion that the IFI had served its purpose. Also, Ireland was by then a wealthy country and didn’t need development assistance from the US. Around that time, the then-Chairman of the IFI began telling everyone in Washington that they would be seeking ‘just one more year’ of funding. They recognized the IFI had done its job, it didn’t need our contributions anymore, and they just wanted to finish projects in the pipeline. The problem was, the IFI Chairman would come to the Hill every year and say again, ‘just one more year.’ That continued for more than a decade.
So I welcomed the current Chairman’s unequivocal declarations (in the last two annual reports) that nothing more is needed. The Irish Government’s own report on the future of US-Ireland relations, released by the Taoiseach more than a year ago, also noted that this initiative was coming to completion.
Given that our annual contribution to the IFI is ending, the US-Ireland Alliance has approached Capitol Hill with a request for $5 million annually, for four years, for the endowment for the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program. This contribution will be matched by the Irish Government (which recently unanimously passed legislation to do so) and will provide for the program in perpetuity.
As the IFI had regularly been receiving between $15 million and $20 million a year, we noted that this plan would still net the US Treasury between $40 and $60 million over the period. For those who would wish to see the United States contribute to a future relationship with the island of Ireland, this approach provides a way to do so, while at the same time supporting educational opportunities for future American leaders.
It is just silly that a handful of people are trying to suggest that the US-Ireland Alliance wants to ‘take money away’ from the IFI. The IFI has said it doesn’t need it, so there is no reason for Congress to provide it. Who would want to push an organization to take money it is neither requesting nor needs?
The US Congress played an important role in the Northern Ireland peace process. And while Northern Ireland is a place they will continue to monitor and assist when wanted and necessary, the need for constant US involvement has long faded. That is a good thing and the result of the success of the efforts of many. From my conversations, I suspect there are some Members of Congress who would like to see the US contribute in a way the reflects this changing relationship with the island of Ireland – a relationship that is now more about education, culture and commerce. We hope the Congress will demonstrate its ongoing commitment by supporting a program that not only honors the work and legacy of one of their former colleagues but, more importantly, recognizes the future of an historic relationship.
Trina Vargo is the president of the US-Ireland Alliance