By Ray O'Hanlon
Congressman Richard Neal, a veteran U.S. legislator from Massachusetts, is the Irish Echo's Irish American of the Year.
Neal, a Democrat who won a new two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives in the recent mid-term elections, is the outgoing chairman of the Friends of Ireland group in Congress and a long time advocate for a broad array of Irish American issues and concerns.
Neal's receiving of the Irish American of the Year was hailed by Irish Echo publisher Máirtín Ó Muilleoir who praised the congressman's long time interest in Ireland, and his knowledge of all the key issues affecting the island.
The selection of Rep. Neal was also lauded by Ireland's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Collins.
"I would like to congratulate Congressman Richard Neal on having received this honor. The congressman is a great friend of mine and a great friend of Ireland," said Ambassador Collins.
"Since 2007, he has been chairman of the Friends of Ireland and has been of invaluable assistance to Ireland on a range of key policy areas. Congressman Neal has worked to bring relations between Ireland and America to a new level and his leadership role throughout the peace process made a real difference for which we will always be grateful.
"I know Congressman Neal, who has strong personal ties to Ireland, will continue to be there for Ireland and the promotion of relations between our countries in the years ahead," he said.
Rep. Neal, the fourth winner of the accolade, succeeds author Colum McCann in the role of the Echo's Irish American of the Year. Previous recipients were New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.