Senator Bill Lawless
By Ray O’Hanlon
Billy Lawless, who represents Irish emigrants and the global Irish diaspora as a member of the Irish Senate, is the Irish Echo Irish American of the Year for 2020.
Lawless is the thirteenth person to win the accolade since it was revived in 2007.
Senator Lawless succeeds the 2019 Irish American of the Year, Mae O’Driscoll.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
But there is continuity in the 2019 and 2020 recipients of the accolade in that both have devoted a lifetime to the cause of Irish immigrants in America.
Lawless, a Galway native, businessman, and longtime immigration activist, was appointed to Seanad Eireann by then taoiseach, Enda Kenny, in 2016.
A father of four and grandfather for eight, he has lived in the U.S. since 1998 and is a successful restaurateur in Chicago where he lives with his wife Anne.
“I always had a yen to open a business in the USA, then when my daughter got a rowing scholarship to Boston University, we decided to go,” he has said of his move to America.
When Lawless was nominated for the Senate the reaction in Chicago was, to say the least, laudatory.
Chicago Irish Immigrant Support stated at the time: “Since his arrival in the U.S. Mr. Lawless has been a leading advocate for the undocumented Irish community and a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform. Mr. Lawless has tirelessly campaigned for an end to deportations.”
CIIS Executive Director Michael Collins said at the time: “Mr. Lawless is the best possible appointee to represent the Irish people in the United States.”
The president of CIIS, Cyril Regan, added: “When the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform was founded back in 2006, Billy was the best person to lead the organization.
“Since then he has taken the organization and its message to a much higher level and has been a great leader for the undocumented Irish for the past ten years.”
And in the years since. Many speak of Lawless not just for his public work, but of the work he carries out for Irish immigrants and the reform cause out of the public spotlight.
In addition, a good deal of his work is focused on emigrants returning to Ireland from North America and elsewhere around the world.
Senator Lawless joins a distinguished and varied Irish American of the Year roster that features Mae O’Driscoll, Congressman Joe Crowley, university lecturer and Great Hunger curriculum pioneer, Maureen Murphy, Congressman Peter King, broadcaster Adrian Flannelly, philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman, attorney and rights activist Brian O’Dwyer, author Pete Hamill, Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, author Colum McCann, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.