By Ed Forry
Trina Vargo, president and founder of the US-Ireland Alliance, is on a mission in her role as founder and chief advocate for the Mitchell Scholars program, named for the US Senate leader who was instrumental in forging the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.
Late last month, it was revealed that the program would be de-funded by the State Department, so Vargo hurriedly put together a campaign to encourage supporters to speak out and encourage the administration to reverse the plans.
“The US Department of State wants to eliminate funding for the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program. If that happens, we will not hold a selection process in October/November to send a class of 2013-2014 Mitchell Scholars to Ireland and Northern Ireland,” she said. “We have received an outpouring of support and requests on how people can help.”
In an urgent letter to Congressional leaders, she wrote:
“We are writing to ask you to quickly contact Secretary Clinton to urge her not to end the US Government’s longstanding commitment to the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program. This program connects future American leaders to Ireland and Northern Ireland with a year of post-graduate study there.
”The Department of State intends to provide no further funds for what is one of the most prestigious scholarship programs in the country. If that occurs, we will cancel the fall 2012 competition to select a class of Mitchell Scholars for the 2013-2014 academic year. (The application deadline is early October 2012, so prior to that date we would have to tell hundreds of universities and thousands of students across the country that the program has been temporarily suspended.) We hope that you will ensure that this does not occur by impressing the following upon the Secretary:
1. The Mitchell Scholarship program is about much more than the island of Ireland – it prepares America’s future leaders in areas that are State Department priorities while at the same time creating for those leaders a tie to the island of Ireland.
2. The less than $500,000 a year the Department provides to the Mitchell Scholarship is a relatively small amount (.0008 percent of the Educational and Cultural Affairs budget), yet necessary for the uninterrupted functioning of the program. (The Department has provided roughly the same amount, with no increases in ten years.)
3. Europe matters. For the last few years, our staff has been told by Department of State officials that it has other priorities and that Europe is not a priority. We completely understand and agree that the USG has myriad pressing crises around the world, including Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, ‘Arab Spring’ countries, and China. However, Europe is facing economic instability that threatens the future of the euro and the prospects for the global economy, so it hardly qualifies as a place the US can ignore. Just recently, President Obama noted that Europe’s economy is ‘starting to cast a shadow on our own as well.’ And European countries are crucial partners in confronting the very real and urgent crises the US faces around the world.
The Celtic Tiger years, when Ireland’s economy was booming, meant that not only fewer Irish were moving to the US but many in the US returned to Ireland. Currently, employment prospects in the US are sufficiently unappealing that the Irish who are emigrating are more often opting for places like Australia and Canada.”
At month’s end, Vargo said, “We have created an online petition so you may easily sign on and share it with your friends, family and colleagues. Please sign our petition by clicking http://bit.ly/Lhjrvx”