Irish Independent

US envoy backs out of talks on emigrants in America

THE AMERICAN ambassador has declined to appear today before a Joint Oireachtas Committee investigating the plight of undocumented Irish nationals in the United States.

US envoy James C Kenny was due to appear at public hearings in a committee room at Leinster House but has now signalled that he is prevented by protocol from appearing in an open gathering.

The embassy has written to Michael Woods, TD, chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, to explain his difficulty.

Yet some members of the committee have pointed out that Mr Kenny's predecessor, Ambassador Richard Egan, appeared in a similar private session at Leinster House in the wake of September 11.

Mr Woods said last night that today's meeting had been deferred.

"We don't want to embarrass the ambassador, and we do want to make progress on the subject matter," he said.

"We will be meeting in private session today and seeking to establish whether the precedent that is there has been offset by a change in policy."

Mr Woods confirmed that Mr Kenny, when he accepted the invitation, believed he would be meeting parliamentarians behind closed doors.

It only later occurred to the ambassador and his officials that he could be asked tough questions on particular cases before a press gallery, with coverage shown around the Leinster House complex on closed circuit television.

The internal TV pictures would also be available to RTE and TV3 for use in news bulletins.

Embassy spokesman Michael McClellan said: "The ambassador has asked the joint committee on Foreign Affairs to defer the planned meeting due to a misunderstanding about the venue and the format of the meeting."

He stressed that Ambassador Kenny was fully prepared to meet TDs and Senators to discuss this and other important issues.

But, he said, it was Department of State policy for ambassadors only to meet informally with parliamentary representatives.

Senan Molony
Political Correspondent

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