Niall O’Dowd’s Irish tabloid misrepresents the Mitchell Scholarship program yet again

If you are someone who reads Irish American newspapers, the Irish Echo tends to report facts, including the full story on the Northern Ireland funding cut for the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program.

The casual reader should take with a grain of salt reports on the Mitchell Scholarship in the tabloid Irish Central. Many are well aware of Niall O’Dowd’s great hope that the Mitchell Scholarship program will end.  We’re not sorry to disappoint him.  His tabloid’s most recent article is yet another example of half-truths and outright errors.

First, as Mr. O’Dowd is very well aware, it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not John Kerry, who eliminated funding for the Mitchell Scholarship program.

The piece also says that I told the BBC that the Mitchell Scholarship would not likely continue past 2015 unless some funding is restored or more private donors are found.”  That is untrue.  What I said, if one actually reads the article, was that Scholars would not be sent to Northern Ireland if funding is not found from those who might hope to see Northern Ireland universities remain a part of the program.

In the fall, the Mitchell Scholarship program will send the 2015-2016 class to Ireland and Northern Ireland.  In the fall, we also will select a full cohort of Scholars to study in Ireland in 2016-2017 and we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.   With the support of many, including Sean O’Sullivan of SOSventures, Morgan Stanley, CRH, Marcy Carsey, our alums and especially the ongoing support of the Irish Government’s Department of Education, the Mitchell program is no longer under immediate threat.

Unlike programs like the Rhodes and Schwarzman, the Mitchell began with an idea, not with a wealthy person’s money.  Unlike the Marshall Scholarship program, which is funded by the British Government, we do not have the annual support of the US Government (it was Secretary Clinton’s State Department officials who told us they were eliminating funding because they didn’t care about Europe any more).  We do care about our relations with Europe and particularly the island of Ireland.  We are constantly working to raise an endowment so that America’s best and brightest can continue to study on the island of Ireland.   I have always been quite honest about the fact that the long-term viability of the program will come down to whether or not there is a critical mass of people who care to build the relationship for the future.

The casual reader should understand the real background to Irish Central’s repeated criticisms.  Nearly a decade ago, I wrote a piece in the Irish Times in which I told the truth, that there would not be a special deal for the Irish who were illegally in the US – that they would be legalized as part of a larger effort.  I was honest and correct, and it enraged O’Dowd.   His personal dislike for me has resulted in him and has tabloid regularly attempting to trash the Mitchell and the US-Ireland Alliance.

In the past three years, of the 10 individuals lucky enough to be offered both a Rhodes and Mitchell interview, 8 have opted for the Mitchell, making it the most sought after prestigious scholarship of its kind.  There are nearly 300 applicants every year for the Mitchell.  One would think this is something Mr. O’Dowd would fully encourage and support.   Fortunately, there are others who are recognizing the value of providing a tie to the Ireland for America’s future leaders.  Hopefully others will join us.  If you would like to support our work, it is easy to do so.

About Trina Vargo

Trina Vargo created the US-Ireland Alliance in 1998 after having served for eleven years as a Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Working directly with political leaders in Northern Ireland, the Clinton Administration, and the Irish Government, she served as a key behind-the-scenes player in the Northern Ireland peace process. She created the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program and the Oscar Wilde Awards which honor the Irish in entertainment. Views are her own.
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