The playing of the final, set for June 4 in Belfast’s Casement Park, is now in severe jeopardy.
Whether it will be played at all, and if so on which side of the Atlantic, could not be fully confirmed by presstime.
A source told the Echo that the June 4 fixture had in fact been postponed.
The situation facing New York centers on the fact that players in the 30-member squad fear traveling to Belfast, or anywhere outside the U.S. for the final against Antrim – this because they lack proper immigration status and might not get back to New York to celebrate what is an historic achievement – no matter what the final’s eventual outcome.
The dilemma facing the hurlers, and the broader Gaelic Athletic Association, was not on the agenda as the U.S. Senate resumed immigration reform deliberations this week.
But it served to highlight for Irish reform backers the need to regularize an immigration crisis that is now cutting across all aspects of Irish-American life – even top sporting championships.
The New York semifinal triumph over Derry was the first since the team signed on to the Ulster championship in 2001.
That, however, was before 9/11.
Immigration inspections have been ratcheted up since the terror attacks on America and undocumented Irish immigrants have been forced to hunker down in the 50 states while hoping for reform out of Washington.
A number of members of the New York hurling squad now find themselves in the front ranks of their number.
“I don’t see any way they can travel,” said one observer familiar with the thinking in GAA circles on the matter.
“This win was a great achievement. It’s such a pity that it should be clouded by something like this.”
The “something” had by Tuesday prompted numerous newspaper reports, radio and TV discussions in Ireland.
More than one report suggested that the endgame in the affair might be a total scrubbing of the Ulster final.
Others pointed to the game being moved to New York, or possibly Chicago or Boston, both of which would be technically neutral venues.
The Web site hoganstand.com was reporting Tuesday that the New York GAA board had asked for a postponement of the Ulster hurling final until a compromise could be made as to where the match will be played.
“The decider has been fixed for a fortnight’s time, but New York have stressed that due to visa problems on re-entering the States, they are not prepared to travel over here,” the Web site stated.
“Antrim have also stated that they cannot afford to fly to New York for the final and the Ulster Council are left in an awkward position of not knowing what to do.
“New York manager Monty Moloney stated that he would be talking to his players over the coming days to seek their opinion on the matter, but it is highly unlikely that a number of them will travel because of the immigration laws.”
The hurling conundrum was being added to the to-do list of Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern who is in Washington this week for talks with Capitol Hill legislators – this as the Senate wrestles with immigration reform and is attempting to vote out a compromise reform bill before the Memorial Day recess.
The Senate debate is focusing on a series of amendments from members, one of them aimed at effectively gutting the diversity visa program which stands as one of the last few relatively unrestricted immigration lifelines linking Ireland the U.S.
One Senate member, New York’s Hillary Rodham Clinton, delivered what Newsday described as “surprisingly downbeat” assessment of prospects for immigration overhaul before the November midterm elections.
Clinton, according to the daily, predicted the Senate would pass a comprehensive package this week but said the effort was likely to die when a compromise measure was negotiated with the House of Representatives.
“Whether we do this before the midterms … I would be doubtful. There are people who want this as an issue. They want to stir up their base,” Clinton told a business gathering on Long Island.
In Washington, meanwhile, Minister Ahern’s two-day stopover was preceded by a visit from a roughly 100-strong delegation from the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, which is cranking up a new campaign called “Irish Voices.”
The campaign is intended to bring to wider attention the real life stories of undocumented Irish immigrants, many of whom have been unable to travel to Ireland in recent years, even for the funerals of loved ones.
ILIR’s efforts on behalf of the undocumented is to be aided by a new $50,000 Irish government grant which was announced last week by Minister Ahern.
Of the Washington mission, ILIR executive director Kelly Fincham said the group was practically welcomed with open arms.
“Senator John McCain told us that we have had ‘a very beneficial effect’ on a
number of his colleagues on the immigration issue and that our contribution
had been ‘very, very helpful,'” Fincham said.
She said that ILIR was now planning to rally as many as 5,000 people in Washington in June to lobby for immigration reform – this once Congress announced a date of the anticipated House/Senate conference.