The New York Times reported on March 15, 2009 that the Irish Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, in a speech at the American Irish Historical Society on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, proposed measures to make it easier for Americans to claim Irish citizenship, reversing a restrictive course the Irish government took in 2005.
“The connections between Ireland and America remain strong,” Mr. Cowen said, “but we cannot take them for granted.”
Mr. Cowen proposes to ease naturalization by allowing Americans whose nearest Irish ancestor is a great-grandparent to qualify for citizenship, provided that they have spent considerable time studying or working in Ireland. Under current law, the most distant forebear an American could claim and still qualify for Irish citizenship is a grandparent.
“There’s an awful lot of Irish-Americans who feel very cut off by the ‘grandfather rule,’ ” said Niall O’Dowd, the former chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and a founder of the Irish Voice newspaper in New York as well as of a new Web site, Irishcentral.com, that started Sunday night. “This would open up Irish citizenship to a whole new generation of Irish-Americans.”
The number of Americans with Irish ancestry has been estimated to be as high as 40 million, and millions of those people have no closer blood tie to Ireland than a great-grandparent.
The immigration proposal grew out of a “strategic review” of Irish-American relations Mr. Cowen ordered up last year, the first such review performed by the government since the 1930s, he said.