Niall O’Dowd recieved Tipp O’Neill Disaspora Award in Buncrana

The biggest mistake ever by an Irish government was recalled by the first man ever to receive the Tip O’Neill Diaspora Award.

Publisher Niall O’Dowd said a government decision blocked Irish people from access to the US "in perpetuity."

O'Dowd recalled at the award ceremony in Buncrana, how O’Neill, one of the most influential Irish-American politicians, wanted to ensure no Irish would be barred from ever entering the US.

O’Neill, Speaker of the House of Representatives, wanted to put an exception into the 1965 immigration act that would have allowed the Irish to come legally into American “in perpetuity.”

O’Dowd, who started the Irish Voice newspaper in America, Irish America magazine, and the news website IrishCentral.com, said it saddened him that O’Neill’s dream was never realised.

He said the Irish government sent their ambassador around because Ireland had too much of a brain drain and they wanted to keep their people at home.”

O’Dowd added: “It was the dumbest decision the Irish government ever made.”

O’Dowd received his award, sponsored by Donegal County and Buncrana town councils, last night before dozens of cousins and other descendants of Tip O’Neill who had a very strong Donegal background.

O’Dowd spoke of the “incredible potential” of the Irish diaspora . He urged the government to appoint a minister for the diaspora who would identify the next generation of billionaire Irish-Americans like Chick Feeney and Don Keough and who would also work seriously on issues such as immigration reform - so important to Irish living in the US as well as the Irish hoping to live legally there.