July 21. 2024. 7:36

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Former US congressman who led ‘Donnelly visa’ programme has died

Brian Donnelly, the former US congressman who helped secure visas for thousands of Irish immigrants in the US, has died aged 76.

Mr Donnelly was best known in Ireland for his leading role in introducing the “Donnelly visa” programme that enabled more Irish people to legally emigrate to the United States.

The former Democratic politician served in the US House of Representatives for the Massachusetts district for 20 years and was appointed US ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago by Bill Clinton from 1994–1997.

His nephew Larry Donnelly, a University of Galway law lecturer, confirmed his uncle’s death on Thursday.

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He described him as “my uncle, my godfather, and a best friend to Ireland”. He said he was “very sad” about the news.

The Donnelly Visa programme initially authorised 5,000 visas annually for citizens of countries that had been historically under-represented in the United States’ immigration system, which primarily relies on family reunification.

The primary beneficiaries were Irish nationals, many of whom had families living in Boston.

The US Congress reauthorized the program in 1990. It is now known as the Diversity Visa programme and authorizes 50,000 visas annually.

Mr Donnelly was also a former chairman of the influential Friends of Ireland group in Washington.