Contribution to the George Mitchell Scholarship (Amendment) Bill 2010.

February 18th, 2010 - Pat Breen

Thursday, 18th February 2010.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund (Amendment) Bill 2010. As previous speakers stated, the fund was established in 1999 to provide scholarships for US post-graduate students to attend certain universities and colleges in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ireland has a very special and unique friendship with the United States of America. More than 36 million people, or 11 %, of the US population reported that they were of Irish ancestry in a community survey in 2008.
For generations, the Irish have been immigrating to the US. Living in County Clare and close to Shannon International Airport, I value very much the importance of our transatlantic relationship with the US. In my constituency of Clare, this relationship has fostered and played a pivotal role in the tourism and industrial development of the region. Many US companies work in the Shannon free zone and a total of 65 US companies are based in the region.
Recently, the US Government copper-fastened its commitment to Shannon Airport when it extended pre-clearance facilities to Shannon Airport, the first airport in Europe to have such a service. On 1 March it will build on this relationship when the first pre-clearance facilities will commence for business and corporate jets and Shannon will be the first airport in the world to have this facility. Corporate jets make approximately 500 or 600 crossings per week and it is hoped this will bring much business to the airport. Last night, I met the US ambassador, Dan Rooney, and he thinks it is a very exciting project that will forge closer links between Ireland the US.
As other speakers stated, there is no doubt that the doors aloneported that they were of Irish ancestry in a community survey in 2008.
For generations, the Irish have been immigrating to the US. Living in County Clare and close to Shannon International Airport, I value very much the importance of our transatlantic relationship with the US. In my constituency of Clare, this relationship has fostered and played a pivotal role in the tourism and industrial development of the region. Many US companies work in the Shannon free zone and a total of 65 US companies are based in the region.
Recently, the US Government copper-fastened its commitment to Shannon Airport when it extended pre-clearance facilities to Shannon Airport, the first airport in Europe to have such a service. On 1 March it will build on this relationship when the first pre-clearance facilities will commence for business and corporate jets and Shannon will be the first airport in the world to have this facility. Corporate jets make approximately 500 or 600 crossings per week and it is hoped this will bring much business to the airport. Last night, I met the US ambassador, Dan Rooney, and he thinks it is a very exciting project that will forge closer links between Ireland the US.
As other speakers stated, there is no doubt that the doors along the corridors of power in Washington have always had a céad míle fáilte for the Irish. The election of a President with Irish links, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, ensured the US Government would always take a special interest in this country and we have forged closer links though the years. Many other US Presidents have had Irish ancestral links, including the incumbent, President Barack Obama, whose ancestors hail from Offaly in the Taoiseach’s constituency.
One of the key figures in ensuring that the Irish were never forgotten in Washington was John F. Kennedy’s brother, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who passed away last year. His understanding of the Irish question and his efforts to secure peace in Northern Ireland were vital. As other speakers did, I welcome to the House his former foreign affairs policy adviser, Trina Vargo, who is now president of the US-Ireland Alliance. She worked closely with the Clinton Administration and we must recognise Bill Clinton’s role in the peace process and that of his wife, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who continues to contribute. Mr. Clinton’s right-hand man was George Mitchell, who chaired the all-party peace negotiations which led to the signing of the Belfast peace agreement on Good Friday of 1998. He received worldwide acclaim for his contribution and in January 2009 the newly elected US President, Barack Obama, appointed him special envoy to the Middle East. This is a daunting task but he is not a man who fears to take on a difficult job if he can help to alleviate the plight of minorities. I wish him well in his efforts.

From his days in Northern Ireland, Mr. Mitchell has become a person we have all come to like and respect. His contribution to Northern Ireland has been recognised through the establishment of and support for the George Mitchell scholarship programme.
I have met Mr. Mitchell on several occasions, the most recent of which was when he officially opened the Doonbeg golf course. He is chairman of the Doonbeg advisory board and maintains close links with County Clare. Although he does not play golf, he officially opened the American golf course in Doonbeg, County Clare. That course continues to prosper and the club has forged close links with America.
Education and the opportunities which it affords are very important to Mr. Mitchell, who has stated: “No one in America should be guaranteed success. But everyone should have a fair chance to succeed”. This scholarship fund gives students a chance to succeed in this country as well as deepening our relations with America. The programme has already brought more than 100 students to Ireland and receives more than 300 applicants annually. I understand 12 students will come to Ireland on the programme this year. The purpose of the programme is to educate a new generation of Americans about Ireland. As Deputy Quinn has noted, it is important that we maintain our special relationship with America. Europe is a big place in which Ireland is a small country and attitudes towards us have changed somewhat. The programme’s participants will be the future leaders of America and will help to maintain close links between our two countries. Furthermore, when the students come here to study, they are visited by their families and friends, thus contributing to our economy. This is important given that the number of US tourists coming to Ireland has dwindled in recent years for a number of reasons, including the current recession and the presidential election. However, I was glad to hear reports that US tourism is on the increase once again. One indication of the great interest shown in Ireland by American tourists is the number of carriers which fly to this country.
The programme’s students attend universities around the country and they are our greatest ambassadors when they go back to the US. Ms Trina Vargo travels with the students to visit many of the fine attractions we can offer, including the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.
The Bill before us aims to provide a legal basis to the 20