The Irish American Partnership: Taking stock – 1986 to 2016

The year 2016 will mark the anniversary of several important Irish events. First and most important are the 100th anniversary celebrations in Ireland and the United States American of the famous “Easter Rebellion.”

Another event will also be remembered by many: the beginning of the Irish American Partnership in early 1986.

It was then, 30 years ago, that the first meetings of the men and women who dreamed of creating of such a partnership took place in Dublin. It was, from the beginning, about a partnership representing both the North and South of Ireland. Official Ireland, in both Dublin and Belfast, thought this was a valid concept and proceeded to take steps to create the organization.

The following year, the Irish Parliament under Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald voted to encourage the idea with an IRL 50,000-pound grant to fund the early expenses. And an elite group of Irish business executives, educators, and political leaders from both the North and South created the partnership in Ireland and began to enlist prominent Irish Americans to manage the organization in the United States.

General P.X. Kelley, United States Marine Corps (ret.), became chairman of the American board of directors and the former speaker of the US House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, became the spokesman for the partnership in the United States.

The Irish American Partnership’s mission was to organize Irish-American support for Ireland, its people, and its future, specifically, by assisting Irish education, starting with the underprivileged primary and secondary schools in the west of Ireland.

Today, 29 years later, there are 5,000 Irish American Partnership supporters, coast to coast and the organization has raised more than $1.2 million, with 86.8 percent going to its mission in Ireland. In answer to concerns about charitable spending, the Partnership notes that fund-raising and administrative expenses, including salaries, are less than 14 percent.

Ireland’s Prime Minister Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said: “The Irish American Partnership has a great track record in supporting worthy causes in Ireland, particularly in the area of education. I thank the members of the Partnership for everything they do to promote and support the great connection between Ireland and the United States.”

As of November 2015, the Partnership has provided funds to nearly 500 primary schools in the North and South of Ireland to help build and modernize their school libraries and provide science teaching materials to assist teachers discussing multiple science programs with their young students. Ireland’s universities have received special grants to assist deserving underprivileged students achieve a college education. In addition the Partnership has funded extensive science teacher training programs in coordination with teaching colleges in Dublin and Limerick.

A special program focused on school leavers and non-college graduates has received funding for many years. The program is called “A Fast Track to Technology” (FIT), taking advantage of undiscovered hi-tech talent in lower paying jobs.

The Partnership works within the established system and Departments of Education in both Dublin and Belfast. Almost 90 community groups in both the North and South have received grants for specific programs. Many of these are focused upon Northern Ireland and promote cross-community understanding.

The thrust of Partnership funding is based on the concept that an educated population is essential to a nation’s prosperity. Partnership programs work to empower the next generation of Irish leaders to lead their nation through the challenges a changing world will present.

There are 3,305 primary schools in Ireland, 509,652 students and 32,489 teachers. This is where learning begins. The fact that over 50 percent of the schools have four teachers or less shows how small and distant many of these schools are. It is these schools that benefit from Partnership help the most.

The 15-member Partnership board of directors is made up of men and women from throughout the United States, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. Several American members have second homes in Ireland, indicating their affection and involvement in their heritage.

The Partnership relies upon a directors’ standing committee in Dublin and Belfast to provide advice and guidance on all funding decisions. The board recently established a planned giving program and funded a modest but growing endowment program to insure that American support will be forthcoming for years into the future.

The dreams of those who began the idea of an Irish American Partnership 29 years ago have been at least partly realized. Much, much more can be accomplished.

It is fitting that we end with a statement from a leader of the American Partnership, Executive Director Mary Sugrue, originally from South Kerry, Ireland: “The Irish American Partnership is pleased to provide a tangible link for Irish Americans to honor their Irish heritage by connecting them with schools and universities across the island of Ireland. The grants are appreciated by the students and teachers who are encouraged by the gifts received from the United States. We are honored and humbled by the generosity of our donors.”