Senator for the Diaspora Billy Lawless was frustrated by his inability to vote as a member of Seanad Eireann in the recent Senate election.
He had no selfish motive in his frustration as he had been appointed to the upper house of Irish politics and was not standing for another four year term.
He simply wanted to exercise his right to vote in an election for a body to which he had devoted the energies of four years.
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 of eight, he has lived in the U.S. since 1998 and is a successful restaurateur in Chicago where he lives with his wife Anne.
As a result of Covid-19 he was not only unable to travel to Ireland for the Senate, but was forced to lay off hundreds of his staff.
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When Lawless was nominated for the Senate in 2016 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 around the U.S., not just in Chicago, 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.
In short, Billy Lawless knew the terrain before he was appointed Ireland’s first representative for the diaspora, and he has covered that terrain in sustained detail over the past four years.
He has also paid much out of his own pocket for the travel that necessarily came with his international role.
Talks continue to form a new Irish government.
It would be hoped that whatever government emerges from the negotiations immediately sees the value and importance of having a senator for the diaspora; recognizes that, given the current extraordinary situation, there is an especially greater priority to be attached to experience in the senate posting, and total commitment to it, and that Senator Lawless fits these requirements and then some.
Yes, Senator Lawless is the Echo’s Irish American of the Year, and is so for a variety of reasons.
One of them is that he is resident in the United States, home to the largest portion of the global Irish diaspora. And that is no small thing.