Dáil Éireann - Volume 649 - 11 March, 2008

Written Answers. - Emigrant Support Services.

[927] Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he has had recent discussions with the US authorities with a view to regularisation of the undocumented Irish in the US; when he expects further progress in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10702/08]

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the numbers of undocumented Irish in the US; the discussions he has had with the US authorities with a view to regularisation over a specific period of time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10703/08]

  Deputy Dermot Ahern: I propose to take Questions Nos. 282 and 283 together.

The overall number of undocumented in the United States is estimated at some 12 million and, while it is impossible to be precise on the numbers of undocumented Irish, a figure of around 20,000 to 25,000 probably reflects a reasonable estimate. Official US Government figures estimate the number of undocumented Irish at only 3,000. The Government attaches the highest importance to resolving the plight of our citizens caught in this very difficult situation. I welcome the strong support across all party lines for our efforts. In this regard, the passage of the agreed Motion by the Dáil on 7 November sent an important and timely message of solidarity from all sides of the House to our undocumented community.

Following the failure of the US Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation last June, despite the strong endorsement and encouragement of President Bush, the Government immediately set about exploring with key US Administration and Congressional contacts possible alternative bilateral options. I emphasised our interest in, and support for, a bilateral solution for our undocumented citizens in a series of meetings with key US Administration and Congressional figures during a visit to Washington last October. Since the all-party Motion was passed, the Taoiseach had a detailed telephone call with Senator Edward Kennedy, in which he again reiterated the Government’s strong support for a bilateral solution.

At a meeting with the US Ambassador in December, I forcefully made the same point. Most recently, I raised this issue with Ms Paula Dobriansky, US Under Secretary of State, at our meeting in Belfast on 27 February. Likewise, our Ambassador and his Embassy colleagues in Washington are in ongoing discussions with Congressional, Administration and Irish community figures, including Senators Kennedy and Schumer, on possible ways forward. The support and solidarity of Deputies, including in their contacts with US colleagues, is also extremely helpful. Achieving progress on immigration at this time, in the middle of a Presidential campaign, is exceptionally difficult. Our many friends in Congress have emphasised this, including the difficulty of passing legislation specifically for our citizens separate from the other 12 million undocumented.

Despite these considerable political difficulties, the Government is determined to make every effort to succeed. The Taoiseach will again be pursuing our case very actively at the highest level on his visit to the U.S. over the St. Patrick’s Day period, and there will be a further important opportunity to do so during the Taoiseach’s visit to Washington in April to address the joint Houses of Congress. I will continue to work towards achieving a satisfactory resolution to this important issue in my own contacts with US politicians and representatives of the Irish community, as will the Ambassador and his colleagues on an ongoing basis on the ground in Washington.