1730 refugees bill

Senator Billy Lawless couldn't vote in Senate election

Senator Billy Lawless (back row, center) with fellow senators in a 2017 photo. RollingNews.ie photo.

By Irish Echo Staff

Senator Billy Lawless wanted to conclude his four year term in the Irish parliament's upper house with one simple act: voting in the 2020 senate elections which will result, at the end of counting this week, with a new Seanad Eireann.

Then along came Covid-19.

Lawless is based in Chicago and he is the Senate member whose primary brief is the global Irish diaspora.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

But Seanad voting regulations fall a little short when it comes to global reach.

He was unable to vote in the Seanad elections because, as the Irish Times reorted, strict rules require the opening of ballot papers to be witnessed by designated officials in Ireland.

Lawless, ho in recent days has been forced to lay off more than five hundred employees at his Chicago restaurants, expressed regret that he could not vote in the Seanad elections. He said it was ironic that “my wife Anne and daughter Clodagh are alumni of NUI Galway so they vote for the National University of Ireland nominations unsupervised and I have to be supervised."

By law, stated the Times report, senators and TDs who vote in the Seanad elections must have the opening of their ballot papers witnessed by either the clerk of the Seanad or Dáil or their assistant clerks, or by a local authority or Garda Superintendent.

Suffice it to say, all of these are hard to come by on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Senator Lawless, who is the Echo's Irish American of the Year, had intended to be in Ireland to vote but because of the restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic he has been confined to Chicago.

According to the Times account, in a bid to vote,he asked Irish Consul General in Chicago, Brian O’Brien, to act as witness.

“We videoed it. He said that he was witnessing me open my ballot papers, and I’m now going to vote and he stamped the envelope, not the papers of course that I voted on with the Consul General’s stamp, but it was unacceptable,” said Lawless.

“I knew it was a long shot because in fairness to Clerk of the Seanad Martin Groves, he tried every avenue, but statute does not allow for me to vote” except under the supervision of the clerks, or a Garda Superintendent or the local council.

“The irony of it. I am co-founder of votingrights.ie for citizens living abroad."

The campaign is aimed securing voting rights in Irish presidential elections for Irish citizens living outside the republic.

Senator Lawless said he was really upset not to be present for the last sitting day of the 25th Seanad.

But, he added, “it was a great four years and it was an incredible honor to be there. It’s meant an awful lot to us Irish emigrants abroad.”

When he can travel back to Ireland he will be headding for Leinster House in Dublin.

“I’ll be back to clear up my office and see what the new Seanad brings," he said.