This country owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Senator George Mitchell. His commitment to the Good Friday Agreement is responsible, in a large part, for the peace we enjoy on this island today. The Mitchell scholarship programme is a fitting and appropriate tribute to his legacy in Ireland.
However the future of the Mitchell scholar programme is in doubt, due to the initial withdrawal of funding and subsequent indication of partial funding by the US state department. The Mitchell Scholar Act legislates for Ireland to contribute 20 million euros over time to the fund but without adequate US funding the future of the programme is uncertain.
According to the most recent set of accounts it cost $1 million annually to run the scholars programme, yet it appears that the 12 scholars costs the programme just €22,000 each per annum. Given Ireland’s current financial situation it would be appropriate that a complete audit should occur carried out by the controller and auditor general – to determine are we getting value and is the program being run correctly. With the same amount of annual funding invested in the program but cutting administration costs, including the president of the Alliance €175,000 salary, it would be possible for some scholars form Ireland to go to the United States which is currently not the case. It is clear that Ireland needs to get better value for its contribution
Despite numerous requests since March the Foreign Affairs Committee have been unsuccessful in getting a clear indication of a date when the president of the US Ireland Alliance Ms Trina Vargo or any member of the board would be willing to come before it to answer questions. In a time of such budgetary pressure in Ireland we believe that any organisation that will receive a total of 20 million euro of exchequer funds should be prepared to come before a committee of the Oireachtas, to explain how Irish tax payers money is being spent. It is the least that the Irish people deserve.