Sunday, October 30, 2011

Elected: Michael D Higgins - Ireland's most anti-American President

Today Ireland elected Michael D Higgins as president. Higgins, who lived and worked in America 40 years ago, is the most anti-American president Ireland has ever had.

As an American living in Ireland it has been clear to me that since the early 1980s Higgins has been among the most outspoken opponents of American policy in Ireland. He's been at the forefront of organized protests and rallies directed at America for 30 years.

In the 1980s it was President Reagan that riled Higgins. During Reagan's short visit in June 1984 Higgins was a keen participant in the protests against Reagan at
Shannon Airport, in Galway and then outside the Dáil (parliament) in Dublin when Reagan was speaking there.

During the 90s Higgins was opposed to the
Gulf War and opposed various aspects of America's defense policies during the Clinton years.

Flash-forward to the Bush years. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Higgins was with the majority of Irish people in opposing the war, but he went further than most here when he declared that the American military was going to "wage war on a civilian population." Visions of American war crimes came easily to him. When the fighting started he
denounced the Irish government's policy on allowing American troop planes to land and refuel at Shannon.

While he hasn't been a fan of a number of America's presidents, he has allied himself with some of America's enemies. He has been an admirer of Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba, cited Castro favorably in the Dáil and simultaneously demanded that America lift its embargo on trade with Cuba.

He also courted Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. Higgins was also a supporter of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and in 1989 he hosted Nicaragua's Sandinista President Daniel Ortega in his own home. In early 2003 he visited Iraq in order to get the Baathist perspective before the war had begun. In 2004 he took part in a candlelight vigil to mourn the death of Yasser Arafat.

Before you worry that Ireland has gone off the deep end with Higgins, there are a few caveats: (1) a majority of people were totally dissatisfied with options on offer during the election and Higgins' win was more a rejection of the others than an embrace of him and his views; (2) Higgins only polled around a third of the electorate, but gained a majority on
transfers from the other candidates; and (3) the position he's won is mostly ceremonial with no influence on policy.

The last factor should mean that if Higgins does his job properly we'll hardly notice that he's in office during the next seven years. Higgins' is entitled to his views, which are to the left of the Irish population, but as President he's not in a position to make or even influence policy so his views shouldn't matter.

Yet, over the past 20 years Presidents Robinson and McAleese have managed to expand the role of the office beyond what was ever imagined when the constitution was first passed in 1937. One of the new roles of the President is leading trade and cultural delegations on trips abroad. Mary McAleese has made many such visits to different parts of America, where she never put a foot wrong.

Will Higgins be able to follow suit? I'm doubtful.

If Higgins were to go on a visit to America he would have to temper his reactions to those who hold opposing views to his. I'm not sure he can do this.

Last year Higgins turned the air blue during what had been a robust, but good-natured
live radio debate between himself and Boston talk show host Michael Graham. The discussion ranged over a number of topics and Higgins got more and more wound up. Eventually he went off on Graham, urging him to support a national health care initiative for America and to "be proud to be a decent American rather than just a w****r". Whatever you may think of Graham's views they are not outside the American mainstream and Higgins couldn't cope with them.

The government would do well to take heed of Higgins' contempt for some aspects of the American people. An explosion like the one at Graham during a trade mission might cause the kind of upset that would drive potential jobs away from Ireland. In addition, his views on Israel might cause consternation in other quarters.

Overall, it would probably be a good thing if the next seven years did not include any Irish presidential visit to America.


Perhaps Mr. Higgins should be reminded, as he assumes the office of Uachtaran na hEireann, that a diplomat’s greatest asset is the practice of diplomacy. If these are truly “wee Michael D’s” views on America and Americans, they certainly fly in the face of anything that even vaguely resembles diplomacy. Such views could, very well, prove to be detrimental to the special relationship that has always been shared by these two nations.

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Loose Lips - Sink Ships!

Undocumented Irish
have no trouble
finding work in
New York City

Irish tradition of immigration allows undocumented workforce to thrive

INES NOVACIC - Contributor - Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ten years ago, Paddy, a 32-year-old Irishman, arrived in the US on a 90-day tourist visa. He still hasn’t left.

The undocumented construction worker said he’s had no trouble finding work in New York – and he’s not alone.

“The tradition is there,” said Paddy, who declined to give his last name. “All my friends work off the books.”

Irish immigrants have been streaming into New York City for decades through legal and illegal channels. But with immigration vaulting into the spotlight as one of the most contentious issues of the 2012 presidential race, there is renewed focus on groups like the city’s undocumented laborers. In a series of interviews, several said it’s far easier for them to work illegally in New York City than other nationalities.

“Irish guys tend to do better,” said Paddy, who recently became project manager for an electrical contractor.

Another undocumented worker from Ireland said he has landed a job without having to prove he has a visa.

“You can earn a nice little wage and live here no bother,” said Sean, 25, another undocumented construction worker who asked to be identified by first name only. “In a place like New York, if you tried to get all the illegals out, the city would hit a standstill. It’s not like we’re unusual or the only undocumented group.”

James O’Malley, an immigration lawyer from Ireland and the head of the Manhattan-based O’Malley and Associates firm, said that Irish workers had grown accustomed to coming to the U.S. since the launch of the Donnelly-Morrison Green Card Lottery program in the late 1980s. This piece of legislation enabled more Irish to obtain U.S. visas, and it adhered to U.S. immigration principles of the 1960s, which focused on family-ties rather than country-based quotas.

“Immigration quotas were fixed politically between 1989 and 1996,” said O’Malley. “But even now with relative immigration decline, the IRS, Department of Labor, and Immigrations Services lack the interest, time or politics to enforce rigorous measures against illegals.”

According to O’Malley, fewer Irish laborers have come to the U.S. since the demise of the country’s “Celtic Tiger” boom. Nonetheless, overall emigration from Ireland in the first half of 2011 was up 12 percent compared to the previous year. Figures published in early September by the Central Statistics Office, Ireland’s census bureau, revealed an increase of 11,1000 Irish nationals leaving the country. So far, that’s 110 Irish nationals a day.

George, 26, an Irish musician living in Queens, said that most of the Irish he knew worked in construction, with 80 percent of them “off the books.”

In Queens, a key Irish community stronghold, Irish laborers accounted for almost 65,000 of the one-million-member workforce, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. In other words, legal Irish immigrants comprise 15 percent of the labor force.

In 2006, the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) estimated that there were 50,000 illegal Irish workers in the U.S. ILIR testified that Ireland received 160 Diversity Visas out of a global total of 50,000 and approximately 2,000 Green Cards from a global total of 1 million.

Sean dismissed the notion that the history of Irish-American labor and emigration Relations account for the unique standing of Irish workers.

“It boils down to skin color. Only Irish workers get the same as Americans,” said Sean. “You’ll never see a Mexican being drunk and disorderly in public. They’re careful because they know they can be deported anytime. An Irishman walking into a construction job, even now with the recession, will get a higher hourly wage higher than other non-white employees who’ve been there for a while.”

Sean acknowledged that the recession impacted upon the illegal as well as the legal workforce, especially during the slow season of winter, when contractors give preference to legal or unionized laborers.

“It’s not the same since 2008, but there’s plenty of construction work out there for us,” Sean added.“There’s hundreds of Irish-owned construction companies.”

Sean recounted a saying from one of his former roommates: “You could just go on the piss Sunday, and get a new job Monday, no bother.”

The Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens provides a similar list to the Starting Gate, of Irish businesses in New York. A spokesperson for the organization equally refused to disclose it without first securing approval from the company listed. Emerald Isle doesn’t typically process work-related requests, but the center’s lawyer, John Stahl, 39, pointed out that undocumented workers have equal employment rights.

“If you do a day’s work in this country, you’re entitled to get paid. It’s not an immigration issue, it’s a work issue,” Stahl said. "I don’t think this adds much."

Under the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Homeland Security and Department of Labor (DOL), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) must refrain from engaging in enforcement activities at a worksite subject to a DOL investigation. Moreover, the report specifies that ICE can only intervene in cases concerning “a federal crime other than a violation relating to unauthorized employment.”

“The city would come to a standstill if government enforced deportations or ICE investigations rigorously,” said O’Malley. “A person can also claim sanction under the 1996 Cancellation of Deportation law, if they’ve been in the U.S. for 10 years and have at least one immediate family member who’s American”.

Paul, 32, who lives with Sean, also came to New York a decade ago on a holiday visa. Paul said that he originally started working for an Irishman who owned his own construction business, which he later merged with a big Manhattan-based contractor.

“I’ve been here for almost 11 years,” said Paul, “and no-one in my situation that’s in my circle, or my friend’s circle, has been targeted.”

Paul, who works as a carpenter, estimated that he gets paid $25-30 an hour. Large construction companies, which generate approximately $150 million a year, negotiate wages with relevant unions.

The General Contractors Association of New York oversees 13 different trade-specific construction unions, and fixes hourly wages between $30-60, dependent on the worker’s skill level. Unionized carpenters typically make $40-45 an hour without benefits. With union membership fees taken into account, Paul earns slightly less in real terms than his documented counterparts.

On a recent day, several Irishmen watching a Gaelic football match in the Cuckoos Nest pub in Queens openly admitted to being undocumented.

“It’s the kind of thing you leave people alone with,” said George, Sean’s 26-year-old friend from Dublin

“They like us, so they tolerate us. And we try to avoid rocking the boat. It has a lot to do with people in the right places turning a blind eye.”

Despite the seemingly easy task of getting work, and the insular, protective nature of the Irish community, Sean predicted that he wouldn’t stay in New York for long.

“I don’t think making more money than other undocumented groups makes us successful,” said Sean.

“We’ve no representation and I’ve yet to meet an Irishman who’s not in construction or bar work. And it’s unfortunate how a lot of Irish in these communities like Queens still only eat Kerrygold butter.”


Very honestly, it is difficult to determine who is more stupid in this article, Ms. Novacic for writing it, her publisher for not putting it immediately in the shredder, or the people who responded to her questioning regarding their immigration status. There is nothing like cutting off one’s nose to spite his face. How can anybody possibly find fault with this great nation when somebody who does not even have authorization to work here can brag about working steadily in some of the highest paid jobs in New York City. If this is not the height of stupidity, perhaps somebody could tell me what is. I have no doubt that ICE will find this article very interesting and, unfortunately, the most likely result will be that somebody else will feel the wrath of the authorities and be the recipient of a one way ticket to Ireland and a ten year bar from re-entry to the U.S. All the clowns mentioned here should hang their heads in shame. They are a disgrace to their heritage and especially to their fellow Irish immigrants.

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America