The US Department of State has cut funding to a scholarship that promotes closer educational links between the US and Ireland because it “no longer cares about Europe”, according to the head of the programme.
Trina Vargo, president of the US-Ireland Alliance, which operates the George J. Mitchell Scholarship, is urging supporters of the programme to telephone the White House and complain in a bid to convince John Kerry, US secretary of state, to re-instate the $485,000 (£290,000) in funding that has been withdrawn.
“The programme is already extremely lean and…to cut anything else will simply result in potential applicants opting not to apply for it,” Ms Vargo said.
The Mitchell Scholarship typically funds a year of study at institutions in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for about 12 postgraduates. However, with the government money representing about half of its annual operating budget, it faces a difficult future.
The removal of state funding was originally announced in June 2012 when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, but advocates – rallied by Ms Vargo – managed to secure a stay of execution on that occasion. This time the alliance has secured the backing of seven senators and 31 members of Congress, who have signed letters calling for the grant to be reinstated.
Ms Vargo said that a feeling “emanates from the Department of State” that it “doesn’t care about Europe any more”.
“When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state,” she continued, “her department made no bones about the fact that Europe was of decreasing importance, and state department officials have told me that there are other priorities.”
Ms Vargo said that she had also been told that the programme missed out on funding because some scholarships awarded by the larger US-UK Fulbright Commission facilitate study in Ireland, an argument that she claims holds no water.
“When it comes to studying in Ireland and Northern Ireland, by any objective assessment, the Mitchell Scholarship is the most prestigious scholarship,” she said.