I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Diarmuid Wilson. Will the Leader organise a debate on the US-Ireland Alliance? One issue I would like discussed is the reason the president of the alliance, Ms Trina Vargo, has not attended the Oireachtas joint foreign affairs committee in spite of being requested to do so.
We were told we would receive an answer to our request for the lady to come before the committee by the end of June but that deadline has passed and we have not received any response as to whether she will attend. She has questions to answer. The US State Department has cut funding to the Mitchell Scholars programme which is run by the US-Ireland Alliance. Many, probably all Senators, will have received an e-mail from the alliance on 20 June, stating that funding had been cut by $500,000. That decision was made by the Secretary of State on 13 February 2012 but the US-Ireland Alliance seems to have become aware of it only in June. It costs €1 million annually to run the Mitchell Scholars programme and 12 students come here each year. Senators might find it extraordinary to learn that €1 million is spent on 12 students but $500,000 was contributed by the State Department.
As of the end of 2010 there was €3.7 million sitting in the programme account. The reason I would like a debate is, first, we do not seem to be able get the president of the US-Ireland Alliance to attend the foreign affairs committee and, second, some of that €3.7 million is Irish taxpayers’ money. What will be done with it? Will the programme be discontinued? Should it be transferred to another organisation? I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the US-Ireland Alliance. If the president of the alliance attends the committee before such a debate, well and good, we will not need the debate in the House but can ask questions of that person in committee. She should either attend the committee or resign because Irish taxpayers’ money is sitting in that account and we cannot get answers. We cannot even put questions to the alliance as to what will be done with the money or ask why a cut of $500,000 has been made by the US State Department to the Mitchell Scholars programme.