It was reported at the weekend that O’Hare’s visa was withheld as a penalty after she had changed her itinerary on a recent visit.
During that visit, O’Hare had traveled to Florida to meet with Bill Flynn, the chairman of the Mutual of America insurance company, and a longtime campaigner for peace in the North. The meeting had originally been scheduled to take place in New York.
Before she travels to the U.S., O’Hare must inform federal authorities of her exact movements, as she does not qualify for a regular tourist visa.
Even with this restriction, she is a regular visitor in her role as the party’s main representative in North America.
O’Hare had intended to accompany Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, on his visit to the U.S. this week.
Before he left Ireland, McGuinness said he was confident of receiving a warm reception, despite the visa waiver setback, which he described as a “minor matter.”
McGuinness said, however, that Sinn Fein members were concerned by the U.S. State Department’s move, and claimed that many members of congress had protested the decision to the U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss.
McGuinness described O’Hare as “someone who has made a huge contribution to the peace process, who has traveled extensively throughout the United States over many years now, promoting the peace process, and has built up many vitally important contacts.”
He said he was “certain” there would be “huge concern and dismay” in the U.S. about the move and that this has been voiced in protest to Reiss and to the State Department.
McGuinness also said the change in O’Hare’s itinerary which had caused the decision was to meet a “key player” in the peace process.
“We find it most unusual given that Rita has been there (in the U.S.) twice since that and has been granted visa waivers on two occasions, that she should be denied one now.”
He did say that the denial should not overshadow the important work of getting the peace process back on track. McGuinness welcomed the statement from the U.S. State Department that there had been no change in policy with regard to Sinn Fein.
Last Saturday, O’Hare and McGuinness met the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, James Kenny, to update him on the peace process. McGuinness said his visit to the U.S. this week showed how seriously the party views American input.
In Washington, meanwhile, the travel ban on O’Hare was criticized by Rep. Joe Crowley, a co-chair of the congressional Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs.
“I am deeply disappointed at the decision by the United States government to deny Rita O’Hare entry into the United States,” Crowley said in a statement.
” I have called on the administration to allow Rita O’Hare to travel to the United States to continue her important work on engaging the U.S. Congress in the Northern Ireland peace process.
“Her role in the peace process is crucial, especially as we move forward in negotiating terms with Sinn Fein, the recently elected largest republican party in the North.
“It is irresponsible and inconsistent for the administration to deny Ms. O’Hare a visa. There is no way to move forward with peace in Northern Ireland if we don’t bring all parties to the table,” said Crowley.