Packed House for VICA briefing to Oireachtas members in relation to the Referendum on extending voting rights for Presidential elections. Delighted that Minister Ciaran Cannon was able to address the briefing. Excellent contributions from Alan Flanagan and Ben Kelly from VICA and Noreen Bowden from Votingrights.ie. Strong cross-party support for this Referendum.
Delighted to welcome a Congressional Delegation from the United States to meet with the Ireland – US Parliamentary Friendship Group.
There was an excellent exchange of views between the Congress members and members of the Oireachtas, where issues such as Immigration, E3 Visa and Brexit were discussed.
Billy Lawless speaks to speak with Adrian Flannelly of http://www.irishradio.com/ in relation to proposed deal that will allow Irish citizens to apply for E3 Visas, as part of new immigration legislation. The two year, renewable E3 work visas would come from the unused portion of the 10,500 E3 visas currently allotted to Australia.
Click on link to listen:
I welcome the announcement today from Minister Ross in relation to new driving licence regulations for returning Emigrants. I have pursued this issue with the Department since my appointment as Senator for the Diaspora.
Minister Ross Announces New Driver Licensing Measures to Help Returning Emigrants and Others
Tuesday 13 November 2018
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr Shane Ross TD, has announced the signing of new regulations which will make it easier for returning emigrants and others to obtain an Irish driving licence.
People taking up residence in Ireland, including returning emigrants, who have a driving licence from another EU jurisdiction, or from a country with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement on exchange of driving licences, can exchange their driving licence for the Irish equivalent. People with a full licence from a non-EU country with which Ireland does not have a licence exchange agreement are required to go through the driver learning process. This is done in the interests of public safety – while many people in this situation may have excellent records of safe driving, we need to apply a measurable standard against which to decide on applications for driving licences.
It is widely recognised that this system is both costly and time-consuming for returning emigrants and others. The principal source of both cost and time is the requirement to undertake a mandatory course of 12 Essential Driver Training (EDT) lessons.
Following discussion with the Road Safety Authority, and also with Mr Ciarán Cannon TD, Minister for the Diaspora, Minister Ross has now signed regulations into law under which people with a full but non-exchangeable licence will be able to take the driving test after a reduced programme of 6 rather than 12 EDT lessons. Due to the need for changes in the RSA systems and to prepare driving instructors for the new arrangements, the new measures will take effect from 21 January 2019.
Speaking today, Minister Ross said ‘I am very pleased to be able to bring in this measure. While it is not just about returning emigrants, I know that many returning emigrants who are not able to exchange their driving licences have found the process of getting an Irish driving licence very frustrating, as well as costly and time-consuming. This new system will significantly reduce both the time and the cost involved. I am aware that some people would like us to go further. However, I have weighed up the options, and I am convinced that requiring some lessons will help people to prepare for the test and improve their chances of passing at the first go, as well as helping them to adjust to specifically Irish road traffic rules. This will benefit a growing number of people, as our economy improves and more people come here, including returning emigrants.”
Minister of State for the Diaspora, Ciaran Cannon TD said, “This is a welcome move by Minister Ross which will assist a number of people moving to Ireland, and we now need to continue to work across all areas of Government to remove any further barriers affecting Irish people that wish to return to Ireland to work and live.”
Remarks of Senator Billy Lawless
London, October 15, 2018
I am delighted to here in London and would very much like to thank Prof. Mary Hickman and VICA for their invitation.
VICA has been a persistent and tenacious champion of voting rights for many years. I would like thank the -Irish in Britain and the London Irish Centre – two of the many organizations that have done so much over the years to support Irish emigrants.
I would like to particularly acknowledge the London ARC for its massive accomplishment in mobilizing Irish emigrants all over Great Britain, during the recent Referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment. It was an enormous success and showed the power of the civic community, and the determination of Irish men and women to make a difference. We have much to learn from the London ARC, on how they helped the “Together for Yes” coalition, put all the pieces together to build a winning strategy.
Over two years ago, I co-founded Voting Rights.ie with my colleagues Noreen Bowden and Kevin Sullivan and I hope that we can all work together to win this upcoming referendum on Voting Rights for Irish Emigrants.
Tonight I want to talk to about three things. First, the Government’s plans for the Referendum next year. Second, how I came to agree with the late Rev. Ian Paisley, Sr. And third – how our fight for our civil rights can restore the nation to what it was always meant to be – a Republic where every citizen is equal.
So first the Government’s plan: last week I met with John Paul Phelan, Minister of State for Local Government and Elector Reform. Minister Phelan assured me that the Taoiseach and the Government, were fully committed to holding a national Referendum. The date proposed is May 24, 2019, the same day as local elections and elections for the European Parliament. So May 24th is our day. Work is being progressed at Department level to initiate the development of the appropriate Constitutional Amendment Bill
The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney and Minister for the Diaspora, Ciaran Cannon are very committed to getting this referendum over the line. They will do everything he can to secure a YES vote. So we have the Government’s support.
But I want to be very clear in saying that we will have to fight for every vote and for the third time in four years look to all of you to organize and expand the #HometoVote movement.
We will have to reach every family in Ireland who has a family member overseas and have a very sophisticated social media presence.
This will not be an easy campaign. We will have to put together a modern 21st century political campaign to overcome an old fashion 19th century attitude about who has the right to vote. An opposition will rise up and say we left Ireland, we don’t pay taxes, we aren’t connected to Ireland and if we vote in large numbers we will swamp the home vote. These are real concerns, however invalid the argument and we must be ready to counter them.
In the next nine months I will be campaigning to remind my fellow citizens about what emigrants have done for Ireland since the founding of the Republic.
Emigrants were in the GPO in 1916. Our remittances sustained Irish families during the lean years of the Irish economy. Irish emigrants like Niall O’Dowd helped persuade Bill Clinton to get involved in the peace process in Northern Ireland.
And Irish emigrants here in London, led the way in helping to win the last two national referendums. You organized, you campaigned, and you went home to vote. Emigrants have always been in forefront in the fight for equality and democracy in Ireland and now it is our time. We have been denied the vote for far too long.
Our opponents always seem to forget that Thomas Clarke, who was the heart and soul of the Revolution, was a returned Irish emigrant and also an American citizen. And they also want to forget that the founders of the Republic called for a government “elected by the suffrages of all her men and women” — not just a government elected by a small group of taxpayers.
So our demand for our rightful equality – to have our vote counted – goes back to the founding democratic principles of this nation. We want to fulfill the promise of the Proclamation. We want to restore the Republic. One Citizen. One Vote. Saoránach amháin, Vóta amháin. Athchóirigh an Phoblacht
A few weeks ago, as many of you know, Derry celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights march, which most observers agree was the start of the Troubles. President Higgins gave a very eloquent speech at Guild Hall and he spoke with about the “historical inequalities” including gerrymandering and the denial of vote that “all conspired against the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote.”
President Higgins when on to recount in his speech the extraordinary interview that Eamon Mallie had with the late Rev. Ian Paisley and how Mallie asked Dr. Paisley whether he thought the historic denial of ‘one person, one vote’ in Northern Ireland was fair, to which Paisley replied: ‘No… but that’s the way it was. The whole system was wrong, it wasn’t one man, one vote. I mean, that’s no way to run any country, there should be absolute freedom and there should be absolute liberty.’ Never in my life did I think I would ever agree with anything that Ian Paisley said, but for once I can agree with him – it’s no way to run a country.
Why are we – fifty years after the Civil Rights march in Derry – asking the very same questions that the marchers in Derry asked. When will we get our civil rights? When will we be allowed to vote?
According to the Government’s Option Paper, released in 2017 on voting rights for Irish emigrants, there are 1.73 million Irish citizens who are now living outside the State, including 750,000 Irish-born citizens. The rest are citizens by descent, living overseas and Irish citizens and passport holders in Northern Ireland, a number that continues to increase because of Brexit.
Why are we not allowed to vote?
Well geography seems to be defining the issue of Irish democracy. We’re not on the island or we’re on the wrong part of the island. One foot over the Border and you can’t vote. There are 96,000 Irish born citizens living in greater London making London a larger Irish city than Limerick and my home town of Galway. But you can’t vote either, you’re too far away!!
I am sure that many of you have been following the Presidential campaign back home and the issues that appear to be dominating this important campaign.
My question to the candidates and the media is; when will they get serious and talk about giving every citizen the right to vote in future Presidential elections and national referendums?
The entire political landscape of Ireland is about to undergo a profound transformation in the next twenty years driven by five factors: Brexit. The possibility of a united Ireland referendum in the next 20 years. Rising immigration. An increasing population – up one million by 2040 – And our demand that Irish citizens living overseas and in Northern Ireland be given the right to vote.
These are the issues that should be front and center in this Presidential campaign and before the Irish people. Talk about the big issues, the important issues; focus on the future of Ireland and the health and well-being of our democracy. Surely the candidates must have a view on the lack of voting rights for so many Irish citizens?
I would very much like to hear the candidates opinion about the many recommendations put forward by the most recent Citizens Assembly, in January, 2018 on election reform, including a whopping 83% support rate for absentee or postal voting, for Irish emigrants.
Our dilemma is that everyone in the current political system is quite content with it. Two years ago, the people of Ireland stood a little taller when we celebrated the Centennial but the political class skipped over the line in the Proclamation about “cherishing all the children of the nation equally.” That would be us; the orphans of Irish democracy.
The Irish State has very well established national planning process – Ireland 2040 – which was announced with great fanfare last February by the Taoiseach. This planning process covers almost every aspect of the Irish nation from basic infrastructure to education, health, the environment, housing, etc. and provides a strategic road map for the allocation of 116 billion Euro, to meet these established goals by 2040.
However, this national planning process has one glaring omission – the lack of any planning regarding the future of Irish democracy, the integrity of the voting process and election reform. We can’t have a Republic with two types of citizens – a first class with the right to vote, and a second class with no rights at all.
Just last week the government announced its new budget but I did not see any allocation for voting rights. What about investing in democracy and election reform?
As a nation we liked to think that we punch above our weight. A little island in the Atlantic, with a global reach, a roaring economy, plus we have the O’Donovan brothers and Sanita Puspure, winning gold medals for us. But did you know that Ireland is ranked #137 in the world when it comes to the integrity of our voting system – according to the global Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) – right alongside Ethiopia, Kenya and Honduras.
Our voting rolls are inaccurate, there is no absentee ballot and millions of Irish emigrants are denied the vote. Although we have an exclusive group of Alumni, from Trinity College and the National University of Ireland colleges, who have a postal vote, from anywhere in the world for Seanad elections. We call ourselves a Global Island so why not become a global leader when it comes to voting rights.
Irish emigrants are Irish wherever we are. Tá na Gaeilge i ngach áit. We are very proud to be Irish, and we love Ireland, whether we are in London, Brussels, Sydney or Chicago.
Many emigrants are planning to come home and they want to come back as equal citizens. And there is a very good reason why: emigrants lose their right vote at the departure lounge at Dublin Airport and when they return they face a battery of exclusionary laws and policies on the most basic of issues – getting a driver license, car insurance, job credentials, the education of their children and third level education fees. I am working in the Seanad to address many of these issues, but why not give those most affected a say too?
By returning to vote in the last two national referendums, those of you who were part of the #Home to Vote movement demonstrated your commitment to Ireland. So when will Ireland embrace her children? That is the question. Right now about 130 nations and territories allow their citizens to vote no matter where in the world they live. Ireland is not one of them. Ireland is increasingly out-of-step with the rest of the EU and with global democratic norms.
In 2014 the E.U. Commission stated that citizens “exercising their right to free movement, should not be disenfranchised at national elections” and just a few weeks ago the European Parliament took up the issue of voting rights and once again Ireland was cited for its poor voting mechanisms. The European Union has demonstrated again and again that it has Ireland’s back when it comes to Brexit. Surely it is time for Ireland to catch up with rest of Europe when it comes to voting rights.
This is an incredibly important moment in Irish history. And our fight follows in a long tradition. The fight in the GPO in 1916, the march in Derry in 1968, and our push for equality in 2015 and 2018 are all connected. One builds on the other. Equality for all – One Citizen, One Vote.
So in the months ahead, just like the civil rights advocates who marched in Derry fifty years ago carrying signs reading “One Man, One Vote,” I will be appealing to my fellow Irish citizens – to their sense of fair play, decency and commitment to equality – to advance the democratic principle of “One Citizen, One Vote” to give all Irish citizens, including emigrants the right to vote.
So please come home to vote next year. Book your flights. And in doing so we can make Ireland the Republic we want it to be – a nation that cherishes all of her children equally.
Saoránach amháin, Vóta amháin. Athchóirigh an Phoblacht. Go raibh maith agat.
A chairde, Fáilte go mBáile Ath Clíath
Friends welcome to Dublin
I am absolutely delighted to be here with you today for the first Transatlantic Migrant Democracy Camp to be held in Dublin, Ireland. It is also great to see so many familiar faces, and good friends here from Chicago, my adopted home town.
Like many of you here today, I left my own homeland and began an immigrant journey of my own back in 1998 when I left Ireland to start a new life with my family in America. I understand the challenges of starting over in a strange country and the tough situations that immigrants find themselves in, but I’m here today to talk to you about your inherent power and the call for leadership, in your own communities here in Ireland and abroad.
Before being appointed an Irish Senator for the Global Irish, I was on your side of the podium, simply an immigrant stepping up to represent my own community.
I opened an Irish themed pub in Wrigleyville Chicago some 20 years ago where I encountered firsthand the Irish undocumented who call America home. In the weather beaten faces of carpenters from Donegal, and contractors from Mayo, I witnessed the pain caused by a broken US immigration system that divided families and hurt businesses. Today there are up to 50,000 Irish undocumented living in the shadows of the US economy, out of a total of 11 million people without papers. They come from nearly every continent, and while their faces may differ their stories do not. They came to the US seeking a better life. They work hard, pay their taxes and contribute to the US economy.
As a business owner with a voice and as an Irish immigrant myself I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. I would like to share with you several lessons I have learned:
Lesson 1 is: Step Up, and Organize Your Own: In Chicago we began by organizing Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform. If your own community is not organized, and you do not speak for them, then no one will or should recognize and respect you. The Irish immigrants connected with the large community of Irish Americans, from the generations that came before us. So when we began we had both Irish constituents and Irish American Allies.
The Irish have a long and storied history with emigration from our own shores, and we have a particular appreciation of the struggles faced by newcomers in a strange land. Over 34 million Americans today claim Irish ancestry, many of them descendent from the more than 1 million desperate men and women who fled famine-ravished Ireland during the Great Famine. 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 across the world.
Ireland itself has witnessed immense changes in the last 20 years as we transformed our economy and opened our doors to migrants from across Europe and beyond.
But Lesson 2 is: You Cannot Do It Alone: The Irish immigrant community in Chicago is small, and the undocumented are the most powerless. We joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and joined together with Mexican, Asian, Muslim, Palestinian, African, Catholic, Jewish, and European immigrant leaders and communities. There was a team of leaders, each respected in their own communities, who worked together as a team.
Through the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights we led the charge back in 2005 with the first of the mega marches that brought millions onto the streets in cities coast to coast, to fight the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill. We also worked to secure welcoming ordinances at the City and county levels to protect immigrants from deportation. In recent times, as threats grew graver from Washington, Illinois staunchly stood by its immigrant and refugee neighbours. My immigrant friends also recently passed the Illinois Trust Act, the most robust of its kind in America, which disentangles local law enforcement from the federal deportation machine.
Lesson 3 is: In A Democracy, You Speak For Yourself:
Immigrant communities lead by immigrant leaders are the key to success in any campaign for immigrant rights, and that recipe was no different in Chicago where we had many wins for our communities.
All of this was made possible by the courage, tenacity and dogged organizing of immigrant and refugee communities across the state, who came together for a common purpose. They marched, they held actions, they educated legislators, they communicated their message effectively through traditional and social media and they affected real change by directing the narrative and changing the hearts and minds, not just of the public, but of the politicians who cast votes on issues that matter most to them.
To do that they needed organizers and leaders like you to show real fortitude by stepping forward to tell their stories. The undocumented youth in particular who fought for the federal DACA program and the Illinois DREAM Act university scholarship program were formidable. You too have that same power, as immigrants in your own right and leaders in your respective communities here in Ireland and beyond, to change policies and affect laws that matter most to you
Lesson 4 is: Build relationships, with your allies and your adversaries: Politics is a funny business. Sometimes your friends stab you in the back, and sometimes your enemies will stand with you. At the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees, we intentionally build relationships with our adversaries, and we also held our allies accountable. We were in constant, continuous face to face dialogue.
We never won a single victory without going to those Republicans with whom we could dialogue, and standing up to be counted. We specifically looked for immigrant and refugee leaders who lived in their electoral districts, or who came from their religious or ethnic communities. We persisted over the years, always pursuing the political openings.
Lesson 5 is: Reward your friends, and punish your enemies: There were many times when the Democrats took us for granted and voted against us for political convenience. There were many times when it was convenient for Republicans and even Democrats to attack and demonize us. And we challenged them, and sometimes punished them politically.
At ICIRR we have been engaged in every election cycle, registering and mobilizing the immigrant vote. Sometimes we caused Democrats who did not support us to lose – Sometimes we caused Republicans who attacked us to lose. At the end of the day, politics is about power. We wish to be loved, but at the end of the day, respect is more important.
Lesson 6 is: Stand for the Core Values of Equality and Freedom: In the U.S. the symbol is the Statue of Liberty, the invitation to the poor and downtrodden to our shores. The core values of European Democracy are equal rights and freedom.
We are in a very difficult period in the U.S. and in Europe. The forces of hate are demonizing immigrants. I tell my Irish American friends who support President Trump: “You have short memories. The Irish were the original refugees. We came to the U.S. fleeing religious discrimination, an occupied nation, and dying by the millions from starvation.”
When immigrants and refugees stand up and say: “We believe in Democracy. We believe in free speech. We believe in religious freedom. We believe in equal rights,” that is a powerful thing. That means we believe that black refugees should be treated like white Americans and white Europeans. That means we believe that gay Muslims should be treated like white straight Christians. That means we speak out in support of undocumented Irish and Mexicans, asylum seeking Africans and Syrians. Immigrants and refugees can be, and should be the strongest supporters of the core values of equality and democracy for all.
In Illinois our organization was asked to support marriage for gays. Because we believe in equality for all, we voted unanimously to support it. The Catholics and Muslims on the Board – all very devout leaders in their faiths – said: “Our faith does not support this, but we will not deny it for others. We stand together for vulnerable undocumented, and so we stand together for vulnerable gays.”
In these ugly times of hate and intimidation, courageous migrants and refugees can be the BEST spokespersons for equality, freedom, and respectful pluralism.
Lesson 7 is: Sometimes you get rewarded for doing the right thing: We do this Democratic Organizing not be doing it for one year or three years, but over 20 years. What I have described to you took place over 15 years. We do not do it because we want to be rich or successful or recognized, but because it is the right thing to do.
But I now I am 68 years old, and I have seen that immigrant and refugee leaders who do this over time win respect. The African president of ICIRR is now the foreign minister for Sierra Leone. The Syrian doctor was named Chicagoan of the Year for his humanitarian work in Syria and for refugees around the world. The Mexican non-profit leader is now the Chancellor of the City Colleges. The undocumented Mexican student now has her Phd. And I was appointed to the Seanad, the Irish Senate, to represent Irish immigrants around the world.
As legislators in the Dáil and Seanad, we are responsible to the people and our living constitution, the architects of which admonished us “to cherish all of the children of the nation equally.” The revolutionaries of 1916 did not distinguish between newcomer and native, but rather envisioned an inclusive Ireland that welcomed all of its inhabitants and asked them to contribute their talents to the life of the Republic. Those of you living here are uniquely situated in history to be a part of the new Ireland, that is transforming itself and re-imagining what it means to be Irish in the modern era.
Grasp that opportunity and make your voices heard.
My appointment to the Seanad to represent the Irish living overseas, is a testament to the Irish government’s commitment to engage with the Irish diaspora but you also have the opportunity to focus its attention closer to home. As you enjoy this inaugural Democracy Camp be sure to learn from each other, develop leaders in your own communities and value your relationships. Cultivate them and be strategic in developing them.
I will finish with some wise words that could have been attributed to an organizer but surprisingly came from President Ronald Regan himself “If you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat”.
Go ráibh mhaith agaibh.
Thank you very much.
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.
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.
Indecon Economic Report on Addressing Challenges Faced by Returning Irish Emigrants.
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.
Senator Lawless speech at a forum in Galway Oct 7th, which hears first hand of some of the issues, challenges facing returning Irish citizens.