Irish Echo Irish American of the Year for 2020, Senator Billy
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.
Lawless, a Galway native, businessman, and longtime immigration
activist, was appointed to Seanad Eireann by then
taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2016.
Lawless 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 he was nominated for the Senate the reaction in
Chicago was 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.
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.