Ireland House Oral History Collection

Sean Minihane

Created/Published:

October 25, 2007

1 hour, 54 minutes, 18 seconds

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

Sean Minihane was born in Bantry, West Cork, Ireland. His father worked as a press photographer for the Cork Examiner for most of his childhood and his mother was a homemaker. Minihane was the middle of five children; he had an older brother and sister, and two younger sisters. He grew up in Skibbereen and attended Catholic school. After hearing a civil engineer come speak at his high school, he decided to pursue a career in the same field. He attended the University of County Cork, graduating with a degree in civil engineering in 1985. At the time of his graduation, Ireland’s economy was devastated. Minihane felt his only option was to look abroad for a job and took a civil engineering exam offered by New York City in Dublin. He was one of fourteen engineers chosen to receive a visa to work in New York City. He worked odd jobs in Ireland before coming to the U.S. in the spring of 1986.

Minihane settled into the very Irish-American neighborhood of Woodside in Queens. He began working as a civil engineer at the Bureau of Public Health Engineering. His job took him all over the city and he found it very interesting. At first, Minihane hung out mostly with his fellow engineers he had emigrated with, but eventually his social circle expanded. He began to hang out with his childhood friend Pat Hurley and other Irish illegals he met at bars and through acquaintances. He became increasingly aware of the problems facing many of his fellow countrymen. The young, educated Irish illegals had few options in terms of work and were frequently taken advantage of. Many of them were forced to remain in the U.S because if they returned to Ireland, they could never come back. Deportation was a constant threat. Minihane began to frequent the Cork Association meetings where he met up with other people who were just as passionate about the illegal immigration cause as he was. In the spring of 1986, after one particularly eventful Cork Association meeting, the Irish Immigration Reform Movement was formally started.

Minihane and the other members of the IIRM raised support by motivating the public and gaining the support of politicians and media. Branches of the IIRM sprang up all over the country, although the branches in New York City and Boston were the most influential. They concentrated their efforts on raising money because they realized that was how you got attention in Washington. Their strategy worked and soon they had the support of many politicians, including Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Joe Moakley (D-MA). The IIRM’s first sign of success came in 1987 when Rep. Brian Donnelly (D-MA) created the Donnelly Visa Program, which resulted in thousands of visas for previously undocumented Irish immigrants as well as prospective immigrants in Ireland. The IIRM continued to lobby congress with the help of lobbyist Harris Miller and had another success with the Immigration Act of 1990 HR-4300. This allowed for thousands of Irish immigrants to obtain visas. Minihane’s mission had been to change legislature from the beginning, and although he ultimately succeeded, he expresses regret that more visas could not be obtained.

As the IIRM’s goals came to fruition, Minihane also experienced personal success. He married his wife Susan in 1990, and was offered a job in Ireland. Although he had achieved success as a Design Engineer with the firm Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. his experiences in politics made him want to try something different. The decision was difficult, but ultimately he decided to take the management position in Dublin. He expressed interest in continuing politics but ultimately remained in civil engineering. Today he founding director of ABM Europe, a general building contractor based out of Ireland. He oversees ABM’s Design and Build Division and also holds responsibility for a number of management functions within the company including personnel, technical direction and finance. He currently lives in Dublin with his wife and children.

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