Our June 1 news story, "A Wrinkle in the Peace Process," surfaced in New York City and was expanded upon by the national weekly, The Irish Voice (www.irishvoice.com). The story described the plight of Patrick Quinn, a Broadmoor Hotel employee brought to the United States as part of the Walsh visa program, an Irish Peace Process Cultural and Training Program sanctioned and financed by the governments of the United States, Britain and Northern Ireland, and administered in the States by Virginia-based consulting group Logicon.
Walsh visa participants, once in the U.S., were assigned either to jobs in Washington, D.C., most in the hotel industry, or to the Broadmoor.
Quinn told the Independent that promises made did not match reality once he arrived in Colorado Springs and began work as part of the Broadmoor golf course maintenance crew, alleging that he and others were being paid subsistence wages, were being nickeled-and-dimed with excess charges by Logicon and the Broadmoor, were culturally isolated and were assigned to jobs well below their level of ability or training. When he lost his temper and threw his paycheck down on a Broadmoor secretary's desk, declaring it to be "a load of crap," Quinn was summarily fired, immediately evicted from his Broadmoor-leased apartment and handed a ticket back to Ireland, all within a matter of hours. Quinn also claimed he was threatened by a Broadmoor security guard who called the Colorado Springs police. No charges were filed.
Since that story broke, another of Quinn's workmates left the Broadmoor to return to Ireland. And according to reporter Garry O'Sullivan of The Irish Voice, two more Irish Walsh visa participants have arrived in New York City from Colorado Springs, following a 40-hour Greyhound bus ride, only to find themselves penniless and homeless, sleeping in Central Park. New York's Emerald Isle Immigration Center has since offered assistance to the three, but it is unclear what the future holds for them.
Meanwhile, serious questions have been raised about Logicon's administration of the program, designed to keep Irish workers in the U.S. for three years. Currently, 47 of the initial 310 participants in the program have dropped out, most with complaints similar to Quinn's.
An editorial in the Voice by Niall O'Dowd calls Walsh visas "a looming disaster," and concludes: "There are tales of young people living in dangerous neighborhoods, sleeping in parks and bolting back to Ireland rather than taking part in the program. Subsistence wages, poor future prospects and a seeming inability to make the program work from the American side are hobbling the Walsh visa program to the point where it may become unworkable."
State Department, Logicon and Broadmoor spokespeople continue to paint the riff as "teething problems," contending that most employees are contented and pointing out that the program is still in a start-up phase.
Ann Marie Scanlon of Emerald Isle and others believe that better orientation is necessary and that Logicon should place program participants near cities with higher Irish populations to assure some amount of cultural continuity. Boston is being touted as a likely hub for the next phase of the program.
-- Kathryn Eastburn