According to its website, the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) was established in 1986 to promote economic and social advancements and encourage contact, dialogue and reconciliation between nationalists and unionists throughout Ireland. In a review of a glowing book about IFI released in January 2009, author Sean Donlon admitted, “While the fund will continue its work for the next couple of years it would be unreasonable to expect external support thereafter, especially in the current relatively stable political and security situation in Northern Ireland.”
Taxpayers can only hope Donlon’s prognostication remains true.
Since its creation in 1986, the United States has provided $486 million to the IFI, including $17 million for fiscal year (FY) 2010. This figure includes $281 million in earmarks identified by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) since 1995. The U.S. historically provided about half of IFI’s funding with the rest coming from the European Union.
Language in the FY 2010 State and Foreign Operations conference report indicated that FY 2010 would be the last year the U.S. would contribute to the program. However, funding for the IFI still appeared in the FY 2011 budget. Luckily for taxpayers, the March 15, 2011 continuing resolution (CR) cut IFI’s subsidy. Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, and the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson all lobbied Congress two days after the CR in an attempt to reverse the decision. IFI remains extremely popular amongst segments of Congress, and it’s not hard to imagine funding for the program being restored in the future.
IFI represents a prime example of the type of positive steps taken in recent months to reduce spending. The Republican Study Committee pointed out in January 2010 that IFI’s mandate is outdated; the program was created at a time when Ireland was very poor. Though the country is currently suffering from an enormous debt burden, it ranks seventh in the world in terms of economic freedom (ahead of the U.S.) due to the strength of its tax and regulatory systems. Even U.S.-Ireland Alliance President Trina Vargo has argued against the continuation of the IFI.
When considering the FY 2012 budget this summer, Congress should make sure funding for the IFI remains discontinued. Further, it should identify similar programs that are no longer a budget priority (if indeed they ever were) and eliminate those as well.