81. Deputy John Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of efforts being made on the needs of the undocumented Irish in the United States of America in view of his St. Patrick’s Day visit to the United States of America; the extent to which ongoing negotiations continue to take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14547/18 asked on 29 Mar 2018)
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Simon Coveney): The long-standing tradition of meetings at the highest level in Washington DC around St. Patrick’s Day affords Ireland a unique opportunity to engage with the US Administration and Congressional leaders at the highest level on issues of particular interest to Ireland, including immigration reform. For many years now, during the annual St. Patrick’s Day visits and throughout the rest of the year, the Irish Government has consistently conveyed to the US Administration and Congressional leaders the priority which Ireland attaches to immigration reform in the United States, while at all times respecting that US immigration policy is a matter solely for the US authorities to formulate and implement.
In encouraging our friends in the US towards immigration reform, we have two key objectives: increased pathways for legal migration by Irish citizens to the US and relief for the plight of undocumented Irish citizens living in the US.
In that regard, the Taoiseach discussed the issue with President Trump in the Oval Office on March 15 last and also in his meetings on Capitol Hill during this year’s St. Patrick’s Day visit.
In addition to the exchanges over the St. Patrick’s Day period, I had previously raised the issue with then-Secretary of State Tillerson when I visited Washington DC last month. The Government’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress on the Undocumented, Deputy John Deasy, has also been very active, while our Embassy in Washington DC is engaged with the Administration and with contacts on Capitol Hill on an ongoing basis.
Through these many high-level contacts and discussions, whether over the St. Patrick’s Day period or at other times, the Government has been exploring a number of different options, including the possibility of a reciprocal agreement covering the undocumented Irish in the US, on the one hand, and US citizens looking to move to Ireland, on the other.
However, this remains a very challenging issue and I do not want to raise expectations unduly. Immigration reform has been a divisive issue within the US political system for decades, with pronounced disagreement, even within the same political parties, on the best way to deal with an issue which directly affects over 11 million people.
In that context, finding a solution for the thousands of undocumented Irish in the US remains a difficult task.
That said, I can assure the House that the Government, its Special Envoy and our Embassy in Washington DC are continuing to give top priority to this issue, during the annual St. Patrick’s Day visits and throughout the rest of the year, mindful of its importance to the thousands of undocumented and to their families in Ireland, and that we will spare no effort in seeking a solution.