February 27, 2022
A bid to welcome Irish Americans ‘home’
as inflation is biting hard across the USA
Tired of digging out in the wake of horrible winter storms? Disgusted with a poisoned political culture and a divided citizenry? Is it about time you finally scratched that itch you’ve had for so long? Well, if Charlie Flanagan, an ex-government minister and long-serving TD (Teachta Dála) from the Laois-Offaly constituency, gets his way, some Irish Americans may find themselves pondering these questions.
Flanagan wants to revive a proposal that would permit Americans who have a demonstrable affinity for Ireland and are aged between 55 and 75 to live, work, and retire in the land of their ancestors. Those interested would have to have an annual income of between €40,000 (circa $45,000) and €100,000 (circa $113,000) in net assets. They would be eligible to work 20 hours per week and their spouses/partners would have the same rights.
Flanagan’s plan surfaces at a crucial juncture when advocates are trying to re-engage on Capitol Hill on behalf of the undocumented Irish in the United States. There is likely to be another push to allow Irish people to obtain thousands of E-3 visas for skilled workers that go unused every year.
It will not be a revelation to Boston Irish readers that the slowing to a trickle in historic terms of Irish emigration to the US poses a threat to the sacred relationship between our two countries. Allowing for more Irish Americans to move “home,” as well as a scheme here that will allow undocumented people resident in Ireland to regularize their status, are propitious initiatives. Neither will precipitate an immediate reset in US immigration policy, yet they are positive developments that Irish politicians and diplomats can refer to in meetings with their counterparts in Washington this month – when this tiny island enjoys access to the corridors of power that is the envy of the rest of the world.
Charlie Flanagan’s reboot of a concept mooted in 2018 was not greeted warmly by everyone, however. Una Mullally of The Irish Times, in a column entitled “State prefers rich Americans to struggling Irish,” lambastes Flanagan and his Fine Gael party for favouring older women and men from 3,000 miles away over young Irish people who see no future in their birthplace because of an intractable housing crisis that has been detailed in this space previously.
Mullally has a legitimate point about the plight of the often well-educated and high-earning 20-30-40 somethings in an awful position at present. But it strikes me as extremely improbable that a small number of older Irish Americans relocating here – in many cases, I suspect, to the sparsely populated rural areas where they have family connections – will exacerbate an undeniably serious problem. If Flanagan’s idea does get across the line, I would encourage those who are tempted to go for it. Take it from one who knows: you won’t regret it. And you won’t miss the snow!
The recent arrival of the new US Ambassador to Ireland, Claire Cronin, has been feted on both sides of the Atlantic. The appointment of the Brockton native and former majority leader in the state House of Representative has been celebrated with particular gusto by those of us who also hail from eastern Massachusetts. Cronin, as a widely respected lawyer and savvy political operator, brings a different skillset to the job than the typically very wealthy businesspeople who are now selected to be ambassadors.
The granddaughter of a native of Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula, Cronin’s delight in her new assignment shines through. She endorsed Joe Biden’s presidential bid early and is close to the equally proud Irish American. While there are diplomatic protocols and obvious constraints on what an ambassador can say and do, I believe Claire Cronin can be a conduit to progress on a range of key issues. It is wonderful to have her in the Phoenix Park.
Without wanting to sound like a Covid-denier or to politicize what has been tragic for millions, I really did get sick of the doom and gloom over here that has been incessant since March 2020. Conversations with people in Boston, in tandem with my daily study of current affairs and opinion pieces online, revealed that there was far less dwelling on the pandemic in the US than in Ireland. As one Boston-based friend from Donegal sarcastically remarked to me, clearly disgruntled with a steady diet of coronavirus tales and conjecture fed her from home: “We have no Covid here, you know. Because we sometimes actually talk about other things, that must mean we don’t have it.”
She had a point. There was absolutely no escaping it. When most restrictions were at last lifted, the country basked in one celebratory “freedom weekend.” Then, another, perhaps grimmer narrative took hold. The inflation that has been afflicting the US has hit us, badly. In addition to the aforementioned housing crunch, the cost of petrol and diesel – already outlandish by American standards – is up 30 percent over a year ago. In the same period, electricity (+22 percent), gas (+28 percent), heating oil (+50 percent) and alcohol (+9 percent) have skyrocketed. At the supermarket, nearly everything is more expensive, even if by 5 or 10 cents.
Accordingly, the news is currently dominated by a further depressing story, with no respite for the weary. While for lots of us, it is annoying and a source of family squabbles as to which expenses warrant reducing, for those who had been scraping by before the onset of inflation, it is devastating. There are reports of two-income families seeking necessities from charities and having to choose between turning on the heat in the house and filling up the car to get to work or school. I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. It’s unfair to put all of the blame on politicians when many of the factors that have led to the first bout with rampant inflation in decades lie beyond their control. To be blunt, though, it’s just not good enough in a country as prosperous as this.
On a brighter note, one sign of a return to normality is that 33 prominent Irish politicians will again be jetting off around the world this month to maximize the unique potency of St. Patrick’s Day and build on the good will it generates globally. Unfortunately, there are vocal naysayers who are perpetually aggrieved by the relatively trifling expenditure of taxpayers’ money on flights and hotel rooms and allege that it all amounts to a big junket. Rubbish. The politicians would be crazy not to travel, and the opportunities engendered by what has become an international holiday are incalculable.
For parochial reasons, I am always keen to see who is heading to Boston, and this year it is the Kerry TD and Minister for Education, Norma Foley. Only elected to Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament) in 2020, she has, as you might imagine from her title, had the very difficult task of endeavouring to ensure that Ireland’s school-aged children are having the best possible teaching and learning experience in an unprecedented climate. Minister Foley has her critics, but most would agree that as a rookie TD in a ministerial role that is tricky at the best of times, she has risen to the occasion. I have no doubt that she will get a hearty welcome from the Boston Irish.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Larry Donnelly is a Boston born and educated attorney, a Law Lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and a regular media commentator on politics, current affairs and law in Ireland and the US. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryPDonnelly. His critically acclaimed book – “The Bostonian: Life in an Irish American Political Family” – can be purchased at easons.com/bostonian-larry-donnelly-9780717190423.