Wednesday, 5 October 2016
Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Manus Cooney
At this stage, I will abair cúpla focal for Mr. Manus Cooney. Ar son gach Comhalta de Sheanad Éireann, ba mhaith céad míle fáilte a chur roimh an tUasal Manus Cooney go dtí an Seomra seo. On behalf of Seanad Éireann, I welcome Mr. Manus Cooney to the House. It will our privilege to hear Mr. Cooney's address to the House today on the diaspora, the undocumented Irish and immigration reform.
When the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, chose his 11 nominees earlier this year to take seats in the Twenty-fifth Seanad, he looked beyond the geographical confines of the island of Ireland to the many Irish people who have followed the well-worn path of immigration. He found in Senator Billy Lawless a man who, in addition to succeeding in business since he emigrated to Chicago almost twenty years ago, has been a tireless advocate of the interests and rights of the Irish in the United States. Senator Lawless has not been slow to use his position as a parliamentarian to raise awareness of the needs of our diaspora and it is through his efforts that Mr. Manus Cooney graces us with his presence today.
In his professional life, Mr. Cooney is a principal at the bipartisan public policy firm, American Continental Group, where his practice specialises in intellectual property, competition and administration of justice policy matters. He is an expert in strategic public policy planning, execution and representation before federal agencies and congress. Mr. Cooney served on Capitol Hill for several years where he was chief counsel and staff director of the senate's judiciary committee. Among the many other leadership roles that he has held, Mr. Cooney serves on the board of directors of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. Mr. Cooney's résumé offers subject matter for many an interesting conversation, but our focus today is on his work on the undocumented Irish and immigration reform.
Ireland's diaspora policy recognises that Ireland has a unique and important relationship with its diaspora that must be nurtured and developed. The main goal of the policy is building long-term, sustainable relationships with diaspora communities. On the specific and pressing issue of immigration reform in the United States, a key objective of Government policy is achieving relief for undocumented Irish migrants and agreement on a facility for future legal migration between Ireland and the US. In advancing these objectives, our friends in the US play an essential part, without whom our efforts would be much less effective. Not least among those friends of Ireland, Mr. Cooney has made an important contribution in helping to progress these aims. In particular, his work in facilitating contacts and relationships between advocates for Irish immigrants and legislators on Capitol Hill has been invaluable.
Immigration is a phenomenon that had a strong impact on the families of many in this House. Some of my own immediate family sought new opportunities in the US many years ago. There has been a long history of immigration from my home place of the Sheep's Head peninsula in west Cork. Many of those who left prospered in their new environment but others have been less fortunate. With regard to the Sheep's Head peninsula, it is interesting - and probably typical of any other part of Ireland - that many people from my home parish of Muintir Bháire, known as Sheep's Head, went to Wyoming to ranch sheep and cattle on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. John Mahony of Killeen was followed by others who became pioneers. To this day, their mark can be seen there. There are Tobins, Sullivans, Ellis's and Swamptons. Families that originated in the Sheep's Head peninsula have prospered, some in politics, such as John Mahony who was a state senator and Pat O'Sullivan from Eskraha Kilcrohane who was a senator on Capitol Hill. Some of the late generation moved to Texas and, if my information is correct, there was a man by the name of Tobin who came from my home parish and was at one stage governor of Wyoming. Those are little anecdotes that I think are worth mentioning.
I hope that our discussion today with Mr. Cooney will contribute to a greater understanding of the issues that need to be tackled and of the way in which we can all work towards solutions to the predicament in which some of our emigrants have found themselves. Before I call on Mr. Cooney to address the Seanad, I know that Senators have been following the contest for the presidency of the United States with considerable interest. However, we have agreed both in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and in this House that that topic is not for discussion today. It would be better addressed off the floor of this Chamber. The specific purpose of Mr. Cooney's visit is to address the issue of the Irish diaspora and his tremendous work in that regard. Céad míle fáilte dó. I invite him to address Seanad Éireann.
Mr. Manus Cooney:
It is an honour and a rare privilege for me to appear before you today. I know that there are many Americans who are more qualified and deserving to be here than yours truly but none would be more honoured. Having been asked to speak to the challenging policy issues affecting the diaspora, the undocumented Irish and immigration reform, there is quite a bit to cover. There is too much perhaps, but I will try to shed some objective perspective on the issue and not to take too much time.
My story is not unique. I come from a family of Irish immigrants. My great grandparents Patrick and Selina Cooney left County Mayo in the 1880s. Selina was from Achill and Patrick was from Ballina. They left in the 1880s to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.Those mines helped to fuel America's 19th century economy and one of those mines collapsed and killed Patrick. He left behind a son, my grandfather and namesake, who also worked in the mines as a boy and bettered his life and the fortunes for his family through hard work. One of his sons, my father Donald, who passed away this summer, earned an academic scholarship to medical school and became one of the nation's leading neurosurgeons. My mother, Claire, and he provided their children with opportunities Patrick and Selina could only dream of. These opportunities, to pursue lives of dignity and potential, have been afforded to generations of American Cooneys, and we are certainly not alone.
According to the US census, more than 11% of Americans claim some form of Irish ancestry, yet times are changing. I think we would all agree that no matter what our particular politics or citizenry, we are living in an extraordinary political time. I am an admirer of the American scholar, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks. Brooks writes that today's politics are characterised not so much by optimism and hope but by anxiety and polarisation. In the United States, we are seeing historic levels of anger and distrust of the government and our political leaders and I think we are seeing the same in many parts of Europe. Why is that? Some blame bureaucrats and politicians in the US and Europe. Others blame greedy financiers. Still others point to social welfare, trade, tax or immigration policies. One or more of all these may contribute to the distrust and anger that have made achieving immigration reform so difficult. Brooks posits that the source of this anger runs much deeper. In the US - we could argue the same holds true for Great Britain, as recently evidenced - we have a highly developed welfare system. Our safety nets are quite good at helping people at the very bottom of society but our country has become very bad at needing everyone. It is this sense of being left behind and of not being needed that is driving much of the politics of the political right and left.
We have all witnessed the astonishing rise of Donald Trump, the politician. Behind that rise is what CNN has called "A group in its last throes as the biggest force in politics: the white working class". A recent survey by the Kaiser family foundation found that about six in ten white working class people say it has gotten harder for people like them to get ahead financially and two thirds believe it is harder to find good jobs. More than other group whites without college degrees blame the government for the economic problems that beset the working class, with 62% saying the federal government deserves all or most of the blame for those problems. Given these data, it is not surprising that 47% of white working class voters in America believe immigrants are a burden on our country. Why? It is because they take away jobs, housing and health care and more than half of all those surveyed, not just white working class voters, believe Muslim immigrants increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the United States.
These are unsettling times, where people of goodwill and strong character are struggling to smartly navigate the turmoil and uncertainty. Our political leaders, who disagree on many, many things, might want to think in terms of how our nation's policies can do a better job of making each person necessary based on a belief in the equality of human dignity and the right of each and every person to realise his or her potential. Senator Billy Lawless is the living embodiment of such a leader. I met him at a prearranged meeting at a Washington pub, where he asked me to assist him and the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform to navigate the halls of Congress in an effort to achieve some legal relief for the undocumented Irish. That was over a decade ago. He convinced me and many others in Congress that providing a measure of legal status was the necessary and humane solution for the undocumented. Senator Lawless and the Irish Government have been consistent and well-engaged advocates for comprehensive immigration reform as a means to achieving legal relief for the undocumented but despite Billy's passion, the leadership of Ambassador Anne Anderson and the many groups she and her able staff have assembled, they have experienced the difficulties of achieving immigration reform during times marked by a sluggish economy and divided government.
A quick review of the past 30 years of immigration policy might help. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, an amnesty law, passed through Congress and was signed by President Ronald Reagan. These were good times for America. The economy was rolling but we had a divided government and a Republican President and a Democratic House. The legislation was meant to tighten border security and crack down on employers hiring undocumented immigrants, while offering amnesty to those already in the country illegally. However, it failed on the former and many working class Americans wound up feeling burned by the latter. In 1996, during the Bill Clinton years, some but not all Republicans tried to reduce legal immigration. I worked for the chairman of the judiciary committee at that time, Orrin Hatch, and he opposed those efforts. Their efforts and similar attempts at a national identification card did not go anywhere. Legislation, which is still in Congress, was introduced by a prominent Democrat, that would have deprived the children of undocumented immigrants of citizenship. He has since said that it was a mistake but that was the sentiment at the time.
In 2000, Republicans passed legislation to address a loophole problem with the 1986 law's treatment of some immigrants and the family members of legal residents. The Clinton Administration wanted to do more and provide a pathway to citizenship, with an amnesty for one group of Hispanic undocumented. That did not succeed but Bill Clinton signed the Bill which Congress passed following the 2000 election.
In 2004-07, President Bush made several attempts at immigration reform. He hoped to appeal to both business owners and Hispanic voters with a comprehensive overhaul. Bush began pushing for a guest worker programme in 2004. A comprehensive bipartisan Bill was introduced by Senators Edward Kennedy and John McCain in 2005 but it could not be reconciled with an enforcement-only House Bill that had sparked protests. Bush made another attempt in 2007, crafting a compromise that allowed a path to legal status for current immigrants and a new temporary worker programme, contingent on more strict border security and employer crackdowns. The legislation resembled a conservative approach offered by Senators John Cornyn of Texas, who is currently the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Jon Kyl of Arizona in 2005. Ultimately, conservative Republicans, along with several pro-labour Democrats, opposed the legislation and it died in the Senate.
Like Bush, President Obama got caught in the middle of the Hispanic voters, the GOP and other domestic priorities. In 2009, he called immigration reform a priority but he did nothing material to advance the cause at a time when Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress. By early 2010, Obama faced pressure from immigration advocates to move forward. He pushed for comprehensive reform but after his fight over Obamacare, the President himself acknowledged that "there may not be an appetite" for immigration reform at that time.In 2013 the prospects for immigration reform improved with the gang of eight proposal passing the Senate, only to see it go nowhere in a House controlled by the GOP, so here we are.
What does the future hold? Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have promised to make immigration reform a priority during the first year of their respective administrations, but what qualifies in one camp as reform and an improvement over the current state of affairs is seen as dangerous and reckless by the other camp and vice versa. The Republican platform, reaffirmed by Donald Trump just last month, calls for a wall along the Mexico border and opposes any form of amnesty for those who crossed into the United States illegally. Although Donald Trump has pivoted from his prior position that all undocumented aliens should be deported, my sense is that a Trump administration with a Republican controlled Congress will not pass legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented aliens. It is more likely we will see the Congress focus on enforcement and deportation of criminal aliens first, with Democrats and moderate Republicans trying to add and include a pathway to legal status for citizenship during that process. It should also be noted that Mr. Trump has intimated that those undocumented who have overstayed their visas should be held to account more than those who entered the United States illegally. He has more empathy for those who crossed illegally than those who have overstayed their visas.
Democrats have gone in the complete other direction. Hillary Clinton has doubled down on President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration, but the implementation of those orders has been blocked by the courts. Comprehensive immigration reform is needed to achieve Hillary Clinton's stated goals, and that is why she has committed to making comprehensive immigration reform a priority during her first 100 days in office. The prospects for enactment of a comprehensive immigration reform Bill are modest, particularly if the Democrats fail to win control of the Senate. No one expects the House to go to the Democrats and Speaker Ryan, despite his personal support for comprehensive immigration reform, faces a sharply divided caucus on this issue and many other issues.
If Hillary Clinton wins in November she may also bring with her a Democrat-controlled Senate, as I noted, within which New York's Chuck Schumer is the new majority leader. Senator Schumer has made clear his intentions as leader to advance comprehensive immigration reform along the lines of the gang of eight's 2013 Bill. That measure will provide legal protection of undocumented Irish residing in the United States. No one has been more supportive or a stronger advocate for the undocumented Irish than Chuck Schumer. He included that provision in his Bill at the behest of the Irish government, Billy Lawless and a coalition of groups supporting it and he should be credited for it. It has Republican support, and Senator McCain and then Senator Brown were the leads on that on the Republican side.
In the scenario I just outlined, if Hillary Clinton wins and the Senate flips to democratic control, I would expect the Senate to pass comprehensive immigration reform within the first six months of 2017, but Senate Democrats will need to be careful not overreach because their majority will be modest in size and they will be defending nearly twice as many seats in 2018. Additionally, whatever passes the Senate will still need to pass a sharply divided House controlled by Republicans, a majority of whom strongly oppose comprehensive immigration form.
Will a Hillary Clinton White House try to achieve a consensus? Could Speaker Ryan even take up a consensus immigration reform Bill were one to be developed? Those are questions that only the future and God know. If Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency and Republicans retain control of the Senate I still expect comprehensive immigration reform of the sort the Irish Government has supported to still be on the table, but the issues just noted in the House will still apply and Senator McConnell will have his own agenda, an agenda that does not include comprehensive immigration reform. Then the question goes back to whether Hillary Clinton will seek consensus and work with Senator McConnell on the issues or will she press for her preferred version of the legislation and we will continue to have a stalemate. In the end, a deal is possible but it will take leadership of the sort the Irish people have been providing in the United States for generations. With the continued hard work of Senator Lawless, a committed Government and an approach that emphasises outcomes that advance the cause of human dignity and opportunity over partisan political advantage, immigration that works for the Irish and the working class of America can be achieved.
I thank the House.
I thank Mr. Cooney for his historic contribution. This is how the debate will follow: each group spokesperson has five minutes to speak and after that we will have questions. If we can confine it to questions rather than repeat welcomes we may be able to get in two people from each group, but we have a strict time finish at 2.30 p.m. First to speak will be Senator O'Reilly.
Just as Mr. Cooney stated that for him it was a huge privilege to address the House and that it is a memorable occasion for him, it is also a great privilege for me to welcome him on behalf of my party and my colleagues in the House. In welcoming him I acknowledge the presence of Senator Billy Lawless, who has done pioneering work and whose appointment is an indication of the Government's commitment to the undocumented Irish and the work of the diaspora in general. I acknowledge the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, who has responsibility for the diaspora. He is doing enormous and energetic work in the area. His appointment, and the appointment before him of iconic sportsman Jimmy Deenihan to the role, is another indication of the importance of the question and of the diaspora at the highest levels of government.
Mr. Cooney's personal story which he enunciated was hugely moving and interesting. It combined every element of the American dream, with death in the coalmines and Mr. Cooney's father being an extremely successful neurosurgeon. This is in essence the American dream. It is what is wonderful and great about America. It is in so many stories. Sadly we have the other as well, to which we will turn. It very much resonates with me. My uncle went to America, and while I do not propose to give the House his biography on this occasion, he and his family have similar histories and similar things happened. It is the classic experience of so many families who went there. He was special to us.
Immigration was a huge part of my community where I grew up. I have always had a very big personal interest in this area. It is why I am very happy to address the question today. I went to all of the Irish centres and population areas in America and England in various capacities in local government and otherwise. It is all our story and it is hugely interesting.
The undocumented Irish represent our human tragedy. It is a human tragedy for the individuals. When we speak about them collectively and globally we can miss the individual story and the fact that individuals cannot come home for family funerals or family events, that they are estranged from their families and are afraid to return home because of the risk of being apprehended. This is an extraordinary imprisonment, an extraordinary alienation and it is dehumanising.I know of such cases. I know of family funerals in my area which treasured and valued family members had to watch on the web and of family funerals and weddings at which a sibling or other family member was not present. It is dreadful. Effectively, they are fugitives in another land. They are people of great capacity who left us with a great education. I am particularly proud, as a former teacher, of the excellence of our education system. These people left with a good foundation and great ambition and energy. In many cases, they were economic migrants in that they left out of necessity. In some cases, they were pioneering and wanted to go but, by and large, they left in times of recession and difficulty in terms of employment. Those people who went with dreams and hopes have so much to contribute because of the background they had here. They could contribute, as Mr. Cooney's family and my uncle's family did, but they are denied that opportunity because they are not legal. It is an extraordinarily important area. I was fascinated that Mr. Cooney identified the difficulty surrounding the anger and alienation felt, which are at the root of the problem.
To move quickly to the latter end of Mr. Cooney's presentation, I see that he presents two contrasting vistas or possibilities arising from the election, which we are not here to discuss. One is a more optimistic scenario; the other is much more challenging. All I can say to him is that he, Senator Lawless, the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, and all the people at the front line of this question will have our active support in dealing with it after the election. We cannot give up on the issue, we cannot give up the fight and we cannot give up on our determination, irrespective of the outcome. In fact, if the more pessimistic scenario that Mr. Cooney cites emerges, that will challenge us even more to deal with it. Let us pray that the more optimistic outcome works for the diaspora. We are not here to discuss the other broader question on this occasion.
It is a human story and it is so much part of our history. As Mr. Cooney said, 11% of people - more than 36 million people - in the US have links to Ireland. We have bonds of kinship and a friendship. The diaspora is our family, so it is a very real issue. I am honoured that Mr. Cooney is with us today. I salute and commend his work in this area and I thank him for it on behalf of those of us who are privileged enough to be able to live and work in this country. These are our brothers and sisters. We are committed to working with Mr. Cooney to achieve these objectives.
I thank Mr. Cooney for coming to this Chamber. He honours us with his presence. I thank him on behalf of all the undocumented Irish - all 50,000 of them - for his work over the years, tireless work that he did for free on behalf of the Irish at home and abroad, which is not often recognised. However, today we have the opportunity to recognise his work and that of Senator Billy Lawless and many others who have done so much. We have often gone up to the hill in hope and come back down in despair. The first time I met Mr. Cooney was at one of those meetings in Anne Anderson's house at which tactics were being discussed regarding the Senate Bill, which was passed. I happened to be in the Senate chamber for the passing of that Bill but, unfortunately, when it went to the other side of the hill, it did not succeed. However, I thank Mr. Cooney for all his work because his advice and knowledge from being on the hill down through the years, working on the judiciary committee, help us to navigate what is quite a complex political system as much as anything else.
The issue before us is personal and huge in the context of this country because, with 50,000 undocumented Irish people living in the United States, it affects one in ten people at home, including grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters. That is 500,000 people on this island directly affected by the issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States. That is 500,000 people here who cannot get a loved one home for a funeral, family event or tragedy. That is 10% of this nation. That is what makes it such an important issue. The appointment of Jimmy Deenihan as the first ever Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, followed by the appointment of Deputy Joe McHugh as Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora and the nomination of Billy Lawless as a Senator shows that this nation considers this issue and the issue of the Irish all over the world to be important.
Mr. Cooney outlined the position over the past 30 years and where it has gone. The most recent failure was the executive order that would have helped half of the 50,000 undocumented Irish but which went to the Supreme Court and was shot down. That executive order was hugely controversial because the President was taking action and taking it on himself to bring some measure of change to the issue of those who are undocumented in the United States. Our 50,000 is a mere drop in the ocean when it comes to the 11 million or 12 million people whose presence in the United States, as Congressman Peter King said, is a security issue as much as anything else. We should regularise their status, so that we know who they are. In this age of global terrorism, that is a security issue. Building a wall does not make us more secure. As the former Soviet Union discovered, a wall did not help it in the end. It is, therefore, a matter of reform of the system from within, from a security point of view as much as anything else.
Our questions from this side of the House concern that Senate Bill, on which Mr. Cooney worked, for which he lobbied and as part of which he secured 12,500 visas for Ireland. When other nations went knocking on the door asking why they were not included, it was because the Irish, through the assistance of Mr. Cooney, Senator Billy Lawless, the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, Ciaran Staunton and many others that we were able to secure that. The ambassador and the embassy have also done a huge amount of work on this issue as has the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As Mr. Cooney will know, under the US 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, those 17,500 visas that Ireland had, and which 35 other countries had, changed for the worse when it came to Ireland and led to this situation where we now have so many undocumented over there.
We are talking in a vacuum in that there is a US presidential election coming up. The outcome of that election, as Mr. Cooney has clearly outlined, has two forks in the road in terms of which way it will go. It will go down an enforcement road with the building of walls at great expense but without much outcome or it will go down the road of an attempt at the very difficult process of immigration reform. Will that Senate Bill be the one Senator Chuck Schumer will take up and carry on? Obviously, we have a vested interest in that Bill being the one that moves forward. We met Speaker Paul Ryan previously and Mr. Cooney outlined clearly that his problems are not the Democrats but with his own caucus because of the tensions within it. Is there any chance Mr. Cooney could prevail on a former presidential candidate for whom he worked, Mr. McCain, to throw his hat back into the ring? He might be a better candidate than the one the Republican Party has chosen.
First, I sympathise with the family of my fellow Galway city man, the late former Deputy Robert Molloy. Mr. Cooney's visit coincides with Bobby's funeral today. A number of my colleagues from the Seanad Independent group are attending the funeral, hence their absence. Of course, many of them worked with him. He was a fine man.
I thank Mr. Cooney for being with us today to share his insights and expertise and for all his work on comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. As he knows, 50,000 undocumented Irish have been living in the United States for well over a decade now. In Illinois, many of them worked hard and paid taxes and yet none of them had a driver's licence, which put them in grave danger, as Mr. Cooney knows, of deportation. A campaign was started 12 years ago to secure temporary driving licences for all the uninsured, undocumented drivers in Illinois. I am happy to say that, after building a broad coalition of immigrant rights groups, faith institutions, unions, businesses and cross-party bipartisan support, Republican and Democratic, the Bill that provided relief to over 250,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois was passed. That model of co-operation among diverse sectors and across the political divide solved the problem that bedevilled the Irish undocumented and hundreds of thousands of others.
In addition, 11 other states and two territories followed suit with similar legislation that would affect millions. We took the decision after the 2013 Senate Bill to work locally and try to influence local states, and our bipartisanship models have worked. I am a firm believer in building consensus on core issues that affect broader society and the type of bipartisan efforts we witnessed in Illinois. Harking back to a not-too-distant time in Washington, two great Irish-American politicians, President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, reached across the aisle to find common-sense solutions to problems besetting the United States.
As Mr. Cooney knows, we took that spirit of co-operation to Washington DC to try to achieve a comprehensive immigration reform that would legalise 11 million undocumented workers, including the Irish. In 2013, we came very close with the gang of eight Senate bipartisan Bill which included a provision granting 10,500 visas for the Irish. When the Bill was in the throes of debate, I went to Luis Gutierrez, who is our championing Democratic leader for Hispanics and immigration reform. I told him there was a small Bill for the Irish for some visas. He asked me how many was a few, and I told him it was 10,500. He told me that was nothing. There was no objection to the main group that was in there with us.
Our hopes were dashed when the negotiations fell apart and the Bill died in the House. Since then, pundits have argued that immigration reform is a third rail and should be avoided by both parties in Washington. Advocates, like Mr. Cooney and many others, continue to keep the pressure on and the dream alive. Albert Einstein once said only those who attempt the absurd achieve the impossible.
My question has been asked already. When does Mr. Cooney think it will be appropriate to start lobbying the new Administration when the next President takes office? How does he rate the chances of immigration reform? He more or less answered that question in his contribution. Would an immigration Bill be piecemeal or comprehensive? Does he think that the political will exists on both sides to include an Irish E3 Visa, as we secured in the 2013 Bill? I again thank him for addressing the House.
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Uasal Cooney. Is breá an rud fear eile de bhunadh an Iarthair a fheiceáil anseo sa Seanad.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin delegation in the Seanad I welcome Mr. Cooney. It is great to see another west of Ireland man in the House. I want to commend him, as have other speakers, for the great work that has been done over the years by him and many others in the area of immigration reform. It is an important area, and I do not think anybody in this House or the Dáil has not been lobbied at some stage by a family who are heartbroken because their relatives cannot come home for a funeral, wedding or to put roots down in Ireland.
He rightfully placed the debate in the context of the debate on the politics of fear around immigration that is spreading worldwide. As he said, we have seen it in Europe and many other countries. It is a sad development at this stage in the development of humankind that there is a fear of the other. We have all been immigrants and all nations have had immigrants at some stage and we have immigrants in this country as well. To see the change in opinion is very unwelcome.
Mr. Cooney mentioned his family history. There are many fantastic stories about Irish people who emigrated to the United States. I was in San Francisco for the Easter commemorations and heard the story of Thomas Desmond, who was a republican who went to San Francisco, was involved in the Catalpa break-out and returned to become a deputy sheriff in San Francisco. He was honoured by the sheriff's department this year. It is another amazing story worthy of a movie or book. There are many such stories across the United States.
We have to recognise the role that has been played by so many politicians over the years. Mr. Cooney and others have named them. The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, Ciarán Staunton, Niall O'Dowd and others who are working with the lobby have also done great work.
I commend Senator Lawless. It is great to see a spokesperson for the diaspora being appointed by the Taoiseach. I had the honour of being the spokesperson for the diaspora for Sinn Féin. Senator Daly has done a lot of work in the area and is continuing to do so. It is important to recognise that. What Senator Lawless said about having to work in a bipartisan manner is crucial. Building a lobby across communities internationally in the United States and Ireland, etc., is really important. I would welcome hearing the thoughts of Mr. Cooney on how we can build that lobby and who we need on board. Politicians, civic society and trade unions have been mentioned. How can we bring our collective might to bear on this issue? I would be very interested in hearing what Mr. Cooney has to say on that.
The debate is framed in terms of the diaspora, undocumented Irish and immigration reform. We also have to recognise the role of the US diaspora in happenings on this island over the past 20 or 30 years. The role played by US politicians in the forming of the Good Friday Agreement, bringing people to the table and putting pressure on the Government in Westminster, in particular, to deal with issues on the island have been very important. The issues are not unconnected. As a lobbyist Mr. Cooney would know that politics is about building relationships and trust over the years, and there has always been trust between our two countries.
I commend the work done by my party leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, and Martin McGuinness over the years. Deputy Adams has been a regular visitor to Capitol Hill and Washington and has met many Presidents. This is an issue he has always raised on his visits, and any of our representatives who travel do the same. Capitol Hill is not the only place where we need to exert influence. There is a network of Irish communities, centres and the GAA across the United States. How can we bring pressure to bear on individual politicians in their home bases? How can we use the Irish network to bring these issues to their attention and show them this is a political issue locally so we can lobby them practically and effectively to ensure they are not afraid of this issue but instead deal with it?
As part of the peace accord, substantial funding has come into Ireland from the Ireland funds. One of the very positive development has been the Fulbright initiative, where Irish and US scholars regularly move back and forth to teach and learn in Irish academic scenarios. There is an academic network, groups of researchers and people who can make theoretical arguments as well as doing research for us. Should we call upon people in those realms to help us?
This issue does not just affect the United States. I was in Canada recently and came across a very sad case where a man who got into trouble in the US moved to Canada and became a Canadian citizen. He has Canadian children, but cannot come home because he cannot fly over the US. His children were recently blocked from flying over the US. They cannot travel to Ireland to visit their relatives and there seems to be very little that can be done unless something is done in Washington.
More important is the role of the Irish Government. We are all based in the Parliament in Ireland. Could we be doing more? How can our Government, whichever party is in power, be more effective in lobbying to achieve what we hope to, namely, to allow the 50,000 undocumented Irish in the United States to become documented? Does Mr. Cooney think we could argue for any specific dispensation for the case of the Irish, as opposed to anybody else?I look forward to a continuing relationship with Mr. Cooney and working with him in future.
I welcome Mr. Cooney to the House with a great céad míle fáilte. I understand he experienced a bereavement in the summer on which I extend my condolences to him.
I am from the south east, although my family hails from the Cathaoirleach's local area of west Cork. What is the main priority in terms of political representation for the diaspora, in particular, undocumented Irish people living in the United States and Irish citizens who recently emigrated? These groups do not have any democratic representation either in their new home or their home country because Ireland is one of a small number of countries without a system of voting or representation for citizens living overseas.
I very much welcome the appointment of Senator Billy Lawless to the Seanad. What role could a reformed Seanad play in strengthening the links between Ireland and the United States? In my view, it can serve a unique purpose in addressing the deficit in this area. As the Government initiates its proposals for Seanad reform, my colleagues and I in Civil Engagement will do all we can to ensure this reform is meaningful and includes serious measures that give a voice to the Irish abroad. Many good organisations such as We're Coming Back, Global Irish Vote, Get the Boat 2 Vote and votingrights.ieare working to secure a fair deal for this group of citizens, which has expressed frustration at the lack of progress in this regard.
I look forward to working with Senator Lawless to ensure the tens of thousands of emigrants who do not have a voice or a vote secure the representation they deserve in future, both in Ireland and the United States. I wish Mr. Cooney a pleasant visit to his home country. I hope the weather is good and he has a good time.
I welcome Mr. Cooney to the House and thank him for all his advocacy work in the area of emigration. It comes at a time when voices who have the vision to recognise the positive perspective and contribution emigrants can make are more important than ever. I think of Walt Whitman's line, "I hear America singing, the varied carols I can hear", in a poem in which he sets out his vision of and message for America. He is referring to the idea that America is made up of disparate voices who are contributing to and making a republic. We, in this country, also have the task of making a republic. I thank Mr. Cooney for his vision and the way in which he has carried it forward in the various corridors through which he has taken advocates such as Senator Billy Lawless.
This type of constructive narrative is more important than ever because we are living in a time where xenophobic language and messages are on the increase and a negative and hostile narrative is at work. It is also the time of the greatest need in our collective history. There are 65 million people displaced around the world as a result of war, conflict, climate change and other causes. The figure is higher than at any time in our shared recorded history. If ever a constructive narrative and message were needed, it is now.
Ireland played a role at the recent United Nations conference on refugees and migrants. We can be stronger in showing leadership, sending strong messages of support for refugees and ensuring that those who reach our shores are treated with the dignity they deserve. They should be embraced and made fully part of society. It is interesting that Mr. Cooney referred to the children of undocumented immigrants in the United States because this is an area where Ireland does not have sufficiently strong rights in place and one which the Seanad can strive to reform. Senators from across the House in all parties share strong feelings about this issue. Addressing it is one of the challenges the Seanad faces.
The challenge we share with Mr. Cooney arises in the United States and the message in that country. I would like to find out in what ways Senators can support Mr. Cooney. Senator Lawless and others noted that we must not only advocate with the US President, but also contribute to advocacy in Congress, local areas and at state level. The cultural and academic sphere is also important. As a former Fulbright scholar to the New School for Social Research in New York, I benefited from an exchange and I believe there are networks which we can activate.
We, in Europe, have recently seen the political consequences and damage caused by populist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. For example, we saw the implications for immigrants of the Brexit vote. How can we, on both sides of the Atlantic, put forward a constructive and positive narrative that recognises the significant social and economic contribution all immigrants, not only Irish emigrants, can make and how much a society can benefit when everyone who is part of its fabric is allowed to fully contribute and be heard and feel safe doing so?
I welcome Mr. Cooney and join other Senators in expressing sympathy following his bereavement in the summer.
The Cathaoirleach asked us not to stray into discussing the presidential election in the United States. While that is fair enough, at every opportunity before election day we must call out the racist buffoonery that appears to be becoming popular across the United States. The problem is not confined to America. As previous speakers noted, there are very unwelcome, xenophobic and racist comments being made by people from across the political spectrum in Europe. In the United Kingdom, such commentary is becoming mainstream. Immigration is extremely important and Mr. Cooney's wise words on the issue were very welcome.
The most rank hypocrisy in Irish public life can be observed when Irish politicians ask US Administrations and politicians to change their views on the status of Irish immigrants in America. How on earth can we, with a straight face, present ourselves in the White House with a bowl of shamrock every March while refusing point blank to do at home what we ask the United States to do? Between 20,000 and 26,000 undocumented individuals, including many children, live in Ireland. Last March, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child asked the Government to take steps to regularise these undocumented workers. Nothing has been done since. While we will have nodding heads around the Chamber and gushing declarations of love for our brothers, sisters and children in America, as is entirely appropriate, how on earth can we tell the US political system it must get its immigration system in order to benefit our children when we refuse to do the same here?
I ask representatives of all parties to leave hypocrisy at the door. They should ask the leadership of their respective parties what they are doing to regularise the position of undocumented workers in this Republic. The language used in this regard is interesting. When speaking about the American political system, we always use the term the "undocumented Irish" but the terminology somehow changes to "illegal immigrants" when we are describing undocumented workers in Ireland. The best symbol of goodwill we could possibly show in terms of what we want the US system to do is to do what we ask the US to do right here at home. Any US Senator, Congressman or President could easily ask, in response to all the lobbying being done in the United States, what we are doing at home and whether we are regularising undocumented workers or doing what the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child asked Ireland to do, because the answer is "No".I suggest, therefore, that after this debate is done, we all ensure that our respective political parties get the finger out and do what the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child asked us to do before we engage again in rank hypocrisy in March 2017 when a bowl of shamrock will be handed over to the US President. This grates on my sense of social justice, Ireland's place in the world and its responsibility to mankind.
I welcome Mr. Cooney to Seanad Éireann and Ireland and hope he enjoys his stay.
I will pick up on a theme raised by Senator Grace O'Sullivan. The Seanad is different from the Senate in the United States. What practical steps could Senators take to assist the undocumented Irish in the United States? Mr. Cooney knows the system inside out and Senator Billy Lawless, the Seanad's man in America, also knows the system from first-hand experience. As the second House of Parliament, what practical action can the Seanad take on this issue? Is there a structure or particular type of process? Is there a missing element in terms of how the issue is being addressed? I know it is in limbo. What constructive steps can the Seanad take because, while talk is important, action speaks louder than words?
It is lovely to see Mr. Cooney whom I met a few moments ago. I am delighted he is before the Seanad. I extend my thanks to Senator Lawless for having the intelligence to invite Mr. Cooney to the Seanad in the first instance. His presence has brought up some serious issues. The issue my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, raised a few moments ago had never dawned on me before. It was raised because Mr. Cooney is before the House.
I propose to raise a completely different issue. I returned from New York four hours ago. Pieta House offers a free service in New York to people who are suicidal or engaging in self-harm. It was made available to Irish people initially but has since been extended to all nationalities. Listening to Senator Ó Ríordáin's contribution on undocumented people living here, I started to wonder about the state of their mental health. I am interested in hearing Mr. Cooney's insights on the mental health of the undocumented Irish in the United States. What does he know about that issue? Where can we get further information about it? Pieta House is making serious efforts to address the issue, initially in New York and subsequently, I hope, in the rest of the United States.
I am from Ballycroy, County Mayo, and live in Belmullet, which is between Achill and Ballina. With a name like Cooney, there is nowhere else but Achill Mr. Cooney could come from. It is lovely to have him here and he is very welcome. I also thank Billy Lawless for facilitating Mr. Cooney's visit.
I will raise a couple of questions that are asked of Senators all the time. Mexico received 58,000 waivers in 2011 alone and other countries such as Israel, Venezuela and Australia participate in the waiver scheme. Why does Ireland not participate in the scheme?
On the Good Friday Agreement, are Mr. Cooney and the advocacy groups in the United States aware of the threats posed by Brexit in terms of the possible introduction of a hard border? What role can they play in putting pressure on the Irish and British Governments to ensure the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full?
Will Mr. Cooney set out his views on voting rights for Irish people living abroad? My brother, who is an American citizen having spent a long time in the United States, can vote in US presidential elections but he and other members of the diaspora do not have any say in this country? What can Mr. Cooney do to facilitate them?
I am delighted Mr. Cooney is present. I thank Senator Lawless for taking the trouble to write the letter to which Senators responded in which he proposed that we invite Mr. Cooney to address the House. We salute the good work Mr. Cooney has done. In the short term, given the volatile circumstances prevailing in the United States, what are the prospects for the large number of undocumented Irish people? Perhaps Mr. Cooney has something further to add on that specific point.
Mr. Manus Cooney:
A number of questions have been asked, all of which were highly astute. Senators raised everything from practical issues and political and tactical matters to the underlying problems we face to health concerns, the needs of the people who are undocumented in the United States and perhaps some of the inconsistencies with respect to how the governments are approaching these issues. In thinking through how this issue plays out in Congress it is important to recognise that in the United States House of Representatives, there has been a good bit of district drawing that makes a primary challenge far more of a threat to an incumbent than a general election. Most Members of the House look at what happens and how their votes will affect their perceived loyalty to the base more than they focus on achieving consensus and finding a middle ground.
It is also important to bear in mind that more than one third of Members of the House have been in office for fewer than six years. Many of them were not around in 2013 and they certainly were not around in 1986, 1996, 2000 and 2007. For this reason, a great deal of continuing education needs to take place. At its heart, there is also a need to recognise that the Irish-American community of today is very different from the Irish-American community of 50 years ago. Members of Congress who are Irish-American and may have a cultural affinity and take pride in their ethnic heritage and in being Irish-American may act on Ireland's behalf or in promoting and supporting legislation and policies that, in addition to helping and advancing American interests, also help the Irish people. They will do that primarily for American interests, not because there is a strong Irish-American constituency in their district. A good example is the Speaker, Paul Ryan, who is from Wisconsin. He made his Irish heritage an issue when he was on the vice presidential ticket with Mitt Romney. He is proud of this heritage but he does not advance Irish issues because he believes it is something for which his constituents will turn out and vote for him.It is important to recognise that for many leaders in Congress, the past is just the past. Therefore, we need to be in a position in which the Irish Government has pressed and continues to press the case on broader issues, including economic issues.
On the question of what more can be done and what elements may be missing, there is a unique, incredible bilateral economic relationship between the United States of America and Ireland. Members of Congress, the finance committees and ways-and-means committees are very well aware of it. They are grappling with the tax issues and the trade issues that go along with that. I would imagine that the members of the judiciary committees and those responsible for immigration reform are not as clued in or keyed in. I have struggled in Washington to get those American companies with a significant presence in Ireland to engage on this issue. They have not because those offices, folks or companies have their own portfolio of issues that are important. It might be worth considering whether we can bring those interests into the discussion via the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland and other bodies to try to figure out how we can get them to voice their support for solving the problem of the Irish undocumented and creating an E3 visa. That is not to say that this can put us over the top but it would not only reinforce the importance of our bilateral relationship but also get those in Congress with more of a business inclination driving their policy decisions to think more seriously about what it is we are trying to achieve here.
If companies working in Europe seeking access to the European market believe Ireland is important to their future, then the Irish Government and people need to communicate to them that solving this problem is important to them. I do not know the extent to which that communication is taking place. It may need to be elevated. Ambassador Anderson does a fantastic job and she has a terrific staff but her embassy's size, muscle and bandwidth pale in comparison to those of just one technology company in Washington. Can those resources be brought to bear? I do not know. In fairness to the companies, they have an immigration agenda also. There is an emphasis on having STEM immigrants, high-tech workers, the educated, the best and the brightest come to the United States to stay. That is good policy. Can they elevate the Irish issue as part of their agenda? I do not believe they talk about it at all. That is something to consider.
I reiterate that Mr. Ciaran Staunton and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform have been phenomenal. They have delivered "Chuck" Schumer and they have delivered many folks. The continuing efforts of Mr. Staunton, given what he has been through personally, have been amazing. I am proud to have met him, to know him and to work with him wherever possible. I failed to mention him by name but wanted to do so and acknowledge the Senator's point.
We have seen many Irish in Washington and many representatives of the Government. The levels of awareness and knowledge of this issue are high but its ranking varies from Member to Member. There is a challenge and we are seeing that the goodwill exists. We have convinced folks that if something is going to happen, we will be part of it. CIR is happening for reasons unrelated to the Irish. It is happening because of the bigger issues at play, the challenge the United States faces in trying to resolve the differences between immigrants who assimilate and those who simply integrate. That is a challenge that many politicians are grappling with. How it affects the future of their parties, their states and the country is a matter we cannot overcome or solve. If CIR does not happen or if there is another path taken, the extent to which we have broadened the coalition or network of folks in the United States who are already interested in this and add new voices to the debate is such that we should actively pursue this. I refer to doing what we can do more of. It is fair to say the resources that have been applied to this are limited. Any way that the Seanad can bring more to the table and become more engaged can only help.
With regard to Brexit and its implications, Brexit, if anything, makes the achievement of CIR more difficult because Americans see that their concerns are not limited just to them. They see the actions that have been taken by Great Britain and they ask why they should not stand up also if Great Britain can do it?
With regard to a Trump Administration, let me make a personal observation. I do not know anything more than any Senators but I have read Mr. Trump's book, which he talks a good bit about. The concern that many conservatives have in the United States is everything for this individual is a deal. Every position he takes is the beginning of a negotiation; it is for leverage. If he needs to move on A, B or C in order to go to a deal, he will do it if he gets something in return for it. That is how he has conducted himself to date, it appears.
My analysis of the debates in which he made deportation an issue, hammered away at it and, seemingly without much thought, pivoted on it tells me that is where he is coming from. That is what hurts him with many conservatives. I refer to movement conservatives, religious conservatives and constitutional conservatives. It is a question of whether he will remain true to those values he espouses today or move them aside or quickly drop them like a bad habit in order to achieve some sort of political deal or outcome. That is a concern and something that might work to the advantage of those seeking CIR. We do not know but it is an observation I believe is worth making.
Gabhaim buíochas le Mr. Cooney as ucht an fhorbairt atá le déanamh ar son na daoine sna Stáit Aontaithe. In welcoming Mr. Cooney today, this Chamber reflects the views of so many on the need for immigration reform. In commending the appointment of Senator Lawless and thanking him for his work — I have seen at first hand the work he has been doing and we had a positive meeting last week — I believe it is important that a bipartisan approach be taken in the United States, as Mr. Cooney mentioned in his remarks, and that there be cross-party support from this House of the Oireachtas. In his very fine contribution and excellent answers, Mr. Cooney spoke about the importance of Congress and the need to have a winning coalition of blue and red, Republican and Democrat — not one or the other but both. In the past, perhaps, we made the mistake of talking too much to one side. Thankfully, we have learned from that mistake and are now encompassing both sides.
As Mr. Cooney said in his remarks, it is important that we reach beyond the traditional base and engage in outreach. When in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, I noted the importance of the Irish community and the work being done, be it in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New York or elsewhere. At the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland dinner in Cork last week, the ambassador stated succinctly to me that we may be moving from Boston to Austin, and that the axis is moving.We speak about a winning coalition. It is about going beyond the traditional Democrat bases and about people like Paul Ryan from Wisconsin.
The Irish-American community is an important part of the American election cycle and also an important part of the American race. We have a very strong lobby of Irish-Americans in Congress. I know from talking to people like Brendan Boyle and Joe Crowley, who I met this summer, that they are very committed. Mr. Cooney mentioned the gang of eight and he made a very good point that one third of the Members of the House were not there. This point about turnover is one we keep forgetting. We need to re-educate and recalibrate our message, and perhaps that is a role that we in this Chamber can play. I would hope the appointment of Deputy Joe McHugh as Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, and the extraordinary work that he and the former Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, have been doing, can be augmented in this Chamber by having a further debate following on from today's debate. I would be very happy to facilitate that request.
Mr. Cooney made a very good point in regard to widening the debate around the issue of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, in particular around American companies. In my contribution to the Apple debate yesterday, I made reference to the fact there are thousands of jobs and millions of euro being invested in this country. Mr. Cooney made an interesting point on how we can broaden that debate. Ambassador Anne Anderson and Michael Lonergan in Washington DC were mentioned. Ambassador Anderson is doing superb work. Mr. Cooney is right that the resources she has in comparison to those of some of our multinational firms are paltry.
I thank Mr. Cooney. Many people would have asked, "Who is Manus Cooney and why is he addressing the Seanad?" The reason very simply is that Mr. Cooney has proven to be an outstanding friend of Ireland. He has made a gargantuan contribution. He may be 6' 3" and he is certainly hard to miss, but his contribution is missed by many because he makes it so quietly, below the radar, as he is only interested in achieving a result. Perhaps I have not been as active a participant as Senator Mark Daly, who I should also commend for the work he does, but I can say to the Members of the House that in Manus Cooney, we have a man who is determined and who has brought steel, insight and a wealth of experience.
He has brought both sides of the aisle together, as Senator Lawless has done and is doing. I say that not by way of fawning praise or to be patronising. I know from talking to people in the United States the work Mr. Cooney has done and is doing, and that is why this Chamber is having this discussion today. We are, as the people's House, their representatives. We may not have a constituency as Senators, but we are representatives of the people in Teach Laighean and the Houses of the Oireachtas. Today we send a message from this Chamber to the Irish diaspora, wherever they are, that we are with them. To those in the United States in particular, I say that we will pursue this because the dream of immigration reform is still an unfulfilled reality.
With regard to St. Patrick's Day and Senator Ó Ríordáin's point on the bowl of shamrock, I point out that it is an image of Ireland. However, what the Taoiseach on our behalf is doing is representing all of us. We are talking about access to the most powerful office in the world. I do not want any political leader, whether a Sinn Féin Taoiseach, a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, a Labour Party Taoiseach, an Independent Taoiseach or a Fine Gael Taoiseach to be unable to do that. It is access to the most powerful and important office in the world, and we must never lose sight of that.
The politics of immigration has many difficult sides. However, we are all united and we must work to overcome the politics of fear in regard to immigration. Many Senators spoke about the issue of intolerance and different aspects that, in some cases, have come in with blue collar immigrants who have themselves benefited from their ability to emigrate. Thankfully, today in our country there are more people coming home than leaving. That is a welcome economic statistic.
To conclude, we are lucky we now have a bipartisan approach and we need to build on that. It is imperative that we give the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, and our ambassador the opportunity to work with all sides of the aisle. From the remarks of Mr. Cooney, it is clear there is one outcome we should perhaps yearn for in November, as there is a pathway that could perhaps see results achieved. I look forward to all of us continuing this battle. Ní neart go cur le chéile. I thank Mr. Cooney for his visit and for his excellent remarks today. I wish him every success in his personal endeavours and I thank him for the work he has done on behalf of all our people.