By Ray O’Hanlon
They were up , they were down and now they are up again. The Walsh visas now look as if they will come on stream this year after all with the money needed to fund them suddenly appearing where before there was only a blank slate.
The required $800,000 in funding was finally secured in recent days by Rep. Sonny Callahan, an Alabama Republican with close ties to Friends of Ireland chairman Jim Walsh, the New York congressman whose name is most closely linked to the visa scheme.
The money is being released by outgoing U.S. Aid Director Bill Attwood, who was contacted by Callahan following reports last month that the scheme, endorsed by Congress and President Clinton, was floundering due to lack of budgetary dollars.
"This solves the problem for this year," a spokesman for Rep. Walsh told the Echo.
With the money in place, the first 4,000 successful applicants for the three-year U.S. work visas should be making their way across the Atlantic before the fall.
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Exact details of how the first year of the plan will work are expected to be announced jointly by Rep. Walsh and SDLP leader John Hume in Northern Ireland next week. Walsh will be part of a congressional delegation visiting the North.
The visa scheme is intended to allocate 12,000 visas over the next three years to unemployed individuals under 35 years old who are living in the more economically deprived areas of Northern Ireland and six border area counties of the Republic.
The Walsh visas were drawn up in the aftermath of last year’s Good Friday accord.
Remember judges too: UUP
With considerable attention being given to the investigations arising from the murders of Northern Ireland lawyers Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane, the Ulster Unionist Party’s North American office has urged members of Congress not to forget other judges and lawyers slain during the troubles.
Details of several such killings have been provided to the Congressional Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs by the UUP’s U.S. office just outside Washington, D.C.
"They were murdered for no other reason than that they, like Mr. Finucane and Mrs. Nelson, dedicated their lives to upholding the law and defending the rights of their fellow citizens," Anne Smith, Bureau Coordinator for the UUP, said in a letter to the committee members.
"I am confident that, now you know of them, you will include their names in your demands for further investigation and resolution of these crimes, most of which have been attributed to the IRA," Smith added.
McDaid cheers ’em on
Ireland’s tourism minister, Jim McDaid, is in North Carolina this week cheering on Irish competitors in the Special Olympics World Summer Games being staged in the Raleigh/Durham area.
McDaid led the 77-strong Irish team in the opening ceremony and was a guest at a "Founder’s Ceremony" honoring Special Olympics patron Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Ireland will be hosting the next summer games in 2003, the first country outside the U.S. to do so.
S.F. mayor angered by snub
San Francisco’s Mayor Willie Brown is angry over the exclusion of Belfast’s deputy lord mayor, Marie Moore, from the annual Lord Mayor’s dinner. Moore, a member of Sinn Féin, was not invited by the recently installed Unionist lord mayor.
"The Irish peace process is an ongoing political and social journey carrying the hopes of lasting peace for everyone in Ireland," Brown said, while adding that the process was "weakened" by the exclusion of Moore and 13 Sinn Féin councilors.