Author: Billy Lawless

Economic Report on Addressing Challenges Faced by Returning Irish Emigrants

The Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, Ciarán Cannon T.D., has published a new report on Addressing Challenges Faced by Returning Irish Emigrants.

This independent report prepared by Indecon was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with the goal of identifying solutions to disproportionate or unnecessary administrative burdens affecting Irish emigrants wishing to return to live in Ireland. The findings of this report will help inform the Government’s ongoing work on making returning to Ireland as easy as possible.

Speaking at the time of the report’s launch Minister of State Cannon said:

“I am pleased to be able to publish this independent report which contains new research profiling the welcome return of Irish emigrants, examining the challenges they have faced on returning home; and importantly, making recommendations to address those challenges.

In a world of increased international mobility and an increasingly global labour market, it is imperative that the Government facilitates the mobility of our citizens; that we enable them to travel abroad, continue engagement with them while they are living abroad, and most importantly, make it as easy as possible for them to return home.”

The report is published in full and you can download a copy by clicking the link below.


Residency agreement could help illegals get deal in US

Irish Independent, Feb 26th

Giving the 10,500 US citizens living in Ireland a special deal on residency could unlock a remedy for the tens of thousands of Irish illegal immigrants in the US who are trapped in a legal nightmare, a leading campaigner has said.

Senator Billy Lawless, whose Chicago catering business employs 500 people, has said the campaign to help the Irish illegals in the US must focus on trying to get a special deal for them. The man appointed to the Seanad as the “diaspora representative” in May 2016 has quietly continued his work at Leinster House on behalf of the Irish overseas.

Read more.

Celebrating the 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass

Senator Billy Lawless narrates as part of  2018 Old St. Patrick’s Church Siamsa na  nGael at the Symphony Centre, Chicago,
March 6th 2018 celebrating the 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass

Billy will be joining Siamsa na nGael as one of the narrators for this years’ program “How Does It Feel To Be Free : The Voices of Today Call Out  To The Liberators Of The Past: Daniel O’Connell and Frederick Douglass”

The programme will be looking at the friendship between Daniel  “The Liberator” O’Connell and Frederick “The Black Liberator” Douglass, whose 200th birthday is celebrated this year.

It will be a celebration of the relationship between the Irish and the African American, through music and dance; and a call to action on behalf of the 40 million slaves in the world today.

Siamsa nGael March 18

Pre-Budget Submission Returning Emigrants

Senator Billy Lawless

Senator Billy Lawless Pre-Budget Submission (PDF – Click on link to view or download).

Since 2009, 193,200 people between the ages of 15 and 24 have left Ireland. Although the number of young people leaving in the year up to end of April 2014 has dropped, the latest available figures show that about 29,000 of those that emigrated in this period were students, an increase in this category of over 8,000 on the previous year. These figures also show that 47% of all emigrants had a degree or third level qualification.

In March 2014, the then Minister for Education and Skills announced that children of Irish emigrants, who have spent 5 years in primary or post-primary school in Ireland, will qualify for EU level fees at Irish Universities and third level institutions for undergraduate courses from the 2014/15 academic year. This move, while welcome, does not serve a person who may have emigrated with their children either at the start of recession or before and now want to return. Their children would qualify for the merit programme for scholarships to US colleges but, because they are Irish citizens, they cannot avail of any scholarship in the United States. If they come back to Ireland they would have to pay almost full fees to attend an Irish university.

There are other problems which face returning citizens that could be resolved with limited additional budgetary allocation to the relevant departments.

  • Absence of a single point of online website that could provide clear information for returning emigrants accessing services;
  • Enrolment Policies of Primary Schools that can have a discriminatory effect;
  • Car Insurance and non-transferability of no claims bonus;
  • Conversion of foreign drivers licences to Irish drivers licences;
  • Government, Landlord and Banking demands for requiring evidence ofutility bills as proof of address;

While small issues, they can act as significant barriers to enticing returning emigrants as well as integrating returning emigrants back into the Irish state. My submission also calls for the implementation of previous recommendations which would help ensure these, and subsequent issues can be addressed.

1 Strategy for return migration

Given the current review of policy on the Diaspora, it is important that provision is made within the new policy framework to develop and implement a strategy to facilitate return migration. This strategy to facilitate return migration requires a coordinated and cross-cutting policy approach to address the current barriers and obstacles to return. It also requires an action plan with adequate resources to implement the actions and to incentivise, support and facilitate young Irish emigrants to return to Ireland,
as the economy continues to recover.

2. Emigrant Policy Proofing

There should be policy-proofing of Irish social policies that impact
negatively on emigrants, before and after they leave Ireland, and to make recommendations on how these issues can be addressed.

3. Resourcing

Sufficient resources are required to ensure the Diaspora policy is fully implemented, and provision should be made for rigorous review and monitoring, to ensure it is effective.

4.  Regional Strategy

Stimulate investment and foster employment in the regions, (outside the major cities) to encourage young Irish emigrants to return home.

5. Database

Establish a register or database of skilled Irish emigrants abroad to
facilitate emigrants to return, if there is job creation within a specific area that relates to their occupation or field.

6. Immigration Centres

Foster closer connections between Ireland and its emigrants through continued investment and funding in immigration centres abroad and support groups in Ireland for returning emigrants and the enhancement of the online mechanisms.

7. Voting Rights

Extend voting rights to emigrants in Irish Presidential elections.

Billy Lawless’s speech to the Ireland Network USA Annual Conference Chicago

Ireland Network USA Annual Conference Chicago

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am absolutely delighted to be here with you today, for what is my first Ireland Network USA conference, since my appointment as Senator for the Global Irish last summer.

I am deeply honoured to be the first emigrant Senator to be appointed to Seanad Eireann – the Irish Senate – to give official voice to the millions of Irish men and women, who left Ireland’s shores, but who never forgot, the land of their birth, or lost their innate sense of Irish identity.

My appointment by our former Taoiseach Enda Kenny was an official and welcome nod to our diaspora, and an acknowledgement that the people of our proud and ancient island, desire a modern and mature relationship with their fellow Irishmen and women living abroad. I am also delighted to say that our new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has reaffirmed to me directly his own steadfast commitment to you,o ur diaspora.

Like countless men and women before me I left Ireland in 1998, to begin a new life for myself and my family in the United States. Ireland and the United States of America share a deep and enduring bond, forged over the centuries in common kinship and shared values. Over 34 million Americans today claim Irish ancestry, many of whom are descendent from the more than 1 million desperate men and women, who fled famine-ravished Ireland during An Gorta Mór.

When President John F. Kennedy addressed the Oireachtas in June 1963 he stated:
And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to building my own, than your sons and daughters. They came to our shores in a mixture of hope and agony, and I would not underrate the difficulties of their course once they arrived.

When they arrived in America the Irish faced a cold welcome – not unlike that received by today’s desperate immigrants and refugees fleeing war and famine – but despite that, the Irish set about building a new life for themselves, and in the process helped to build the United States of America, and in particular left their indelible mark on the fabric, of this most American of cities- Chicago.

I feel particularly at home here at the INUSA Chicago conference, as I made my own mark in this very city, when I moved here to open an Irish themed pub in Wrigleyville 20 years ago.
It was here that I encountered first hand so many of the Irish undocumented who call this country, home, and witnessed the pain caused by a broken immigration system that hurts businesses and divides families. Over a decade ago, I began championing meaningful immigration reform and I continue that work today in my new role as Senator.

As we all know, immigration is once again a hot button issue in America’s national discourse. Last week’s announcement that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), will be phased out for its 800,000 young recipients was a particular gut punch, to those of us who worked so hard to see the program implemented under President Obama. It only added to a litany of unfortunate actions, against immigrants and refugees including the Travel Ban, threats to withhold federal funds from Sanctuary – or better put, Welcoming – jurisdictions, and the presidential pardon for an Arizona sheriff known for his discriminatory practices against immigrants seeking a better life.
There are mixed signals as to whether Congress will act in the next six months to rectify this terrible wrong.

Friends, in these challenging times I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King Junior when he said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
I will continue to advocate for the least amongst us and am inspired daily by the selfless determination, of so many ordinary individuals and grassroots organizations -in the Irish community and beyond – who are heeding the call to action and are rejecting a vision of America that is inward looking and myopic for an America that is inclusive and an example for the world.

Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of Americans – 74% – support common sense immigration reform – including a majority of Republicans I might add. The American people clearly want a solution that secures the border but provides a pathway to legal status for the 11 million here without papers. I ask you when has it ever been Republican policy, to not allow people to pay tax?
I am confident that a nation founded by immigrants and forged in the ideals of liberty and fairness can find a solution that is fair to the rule of law and to those seeking a better life.

Ireland too faces her own challenges today, none more so than the implications of Brexit, which could affect the wellbeing of every man, woman and child on the island. As we move forward, the Irish government is determined to keep the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland open, preserve the hard fought peace on our island, and mitigate the economic impact of one of our largest trading partners exiting the EU.

In an era of global citizenship, where people are more mobile and nations more interdependent, Ireland has made her choice to look outward and to embrace not only her place among the nations but her diaspora living overseas.
The revolutionaries of 1916 called for us to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’. Today’s open and inclusive Ireland is fulfilling the marker set down by the architects of our Republic, by redefining the meaning of nationhood and is reaching out to our diaspora in ways that were never done before. My appointment as Senator for the Diaspora is proof that your voice is being heard in the corridors of power in Leinster House and is only the beginning.

I have travelled to many American cities since my appointment, and have listened to the concerns of Irish citizens living here, and I am pleased to say that Dublin is listening to them now, too. The Irish government recently announced that it will hold a referendum on Voting Rights for the Diaspora in Irish presidential elections. This is an important first step in enfranchising all Irish passport holders living overseas and in Northern Ireland. I have been proud to advocate for this issue as a founding member of Voting and have always said that if 24 of the 28 members states in the EU can do it then so can we.

It is my job to highlight important issues affecting emigrants living overseas and those returning to Ireland, so I encourage all of you to reach out to me with your ideas and your concerns.
It doesn’t need repeating here today that Ireland has had a long and storied history of emigration, and it continues unabated today. If you stand in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood or in Yonkers you’re as likely to hear a brogue today as you were 100 years ago. The Irish continue to make their unique mark on the United States and in countries the world over. From India to Israel, from Dubai to Denmark, Irish citizens are moving, innovating and working in every conceivable industry and field.

I am particularly impressed by the Ireland Network USA with its myriad of local chapters, including Chicago, bringing together Irish and Irish American professionals and business people from every field, to celebrate their Irish identity and develop deeper ties. The Americans may have coined the phrase ‘networking’ but the Irish were masters at it before it was even uttered.

As a people we are naturally gifted with the gab and excel at making that personal connection with every other Irish person we meet. How often have you met someone from home who will rattle off a list of names until you land on a common denominator – a person to whom you both connect and who arguably binds you to the stranger you just met. The ancient tribal Celtic heart still beats strong under a modern façade.

The Ireland Network USA is in many ways a modern Irish tribe. It fosters relationships among its kin, encourages trade and enterprise within its boundaries and beyond, and binds its people to the land of their birth.

In closing I want to commend the INUSA for a wonderfully successful conference and for all of the work that you do to promote Ireland and foster Irish identity in the United States. To quote an ancient Irish saying:
Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.

Under the shelter of each other, people survive.

Under your leadership the connection between Ireland and the United States not only survives it thrives.

Go raibh mile mhaith agaibh. Thank you.