Still, the presence of an Irish government cabinet minister at last weekend’s Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers annual meeting in Philadelphia was welcomed and appreciated by those who had traveled from around the U.S. for three days of talks and discussions focusing on the current state of the Irish immigrant in America.
Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Coughlan told the immigrant center heads that emigration from Ireland was still a fact of life for young people.
“Recent figures suggest that economic migration is still a necessity for some Irish people,” she said at the Omni Hotel event. “While emigrant numbers are falling, many [who do emigrate] are early school leavers without academic qualifications or technical skills. This underlines the vital importance of the services your organizations provide.”
Coughlan briefed the conference attendees on the upcoming Nice Treaty referendum in Ireland though did not touch on the fact that none of her attentive listeners could actually vote in the plebiscite.
The minister also touched on the relatively recent phenomenon of immigration in Ireland.
Immigration, she said, had become a political and social issue.
“It is a relatively new phenomenon, and has sadly led to a number of racially motivated attacks, abusive and frankly disgraceful behavior from a nation whose collective experience of emigration should ensure that such behavior has no place in our hearts or community,” she said.
Referring to the recently completed report of the Irish government-appointed Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants, Coughlan said that the report was groundbreaking and represented a new beginning.
“This is the first time the establishment of an action plan has been proposed to meet the needs of emigrants-both here in America and elsewhere in the world,” she said.
She said the provision of additional funding for the various immigrant centers would have to be considered in the coming weeks by the government “in the overall budgetary context.”
“I cannot prejudge the outcome of those deliberations,” she said. “I can, however, reiterate how impressed I am with the work of the immigration centers here in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the United States.”
Sheila Gleason of the Irish Immigration Center in Boston said the conference looked closely at what kind of bills were currently before Congress.
“The atmosphere in Congress right now is a little disconcerting, but we did look at what legislation might work and how we might get community support it,” she said. “With good planning we can move ahead with the incredible amount of work everybody is doing around the country.”