Category: Press & Media

Seanad Eireann bye-election 2021

I am asking you for your No.1 or next highest preference in the forthcoming bye-election for a seat on the Industrial and Commercial Panel

Why vote for me?

A strong and experienced voice for the Irish diaspora

As you know I served in the last Seanad as a Taoiseach’s Nominee and kept immigration reform high on the agenda. Since the inauguration of President Joe Biden the whole dynamic in the United States has changed for the better and I will continue to advocate from within if elected to the Upper House.

Founding member of

We campaign for a Referendum to be held to ensure that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and worldwide will have a vote in future Presidential Elections. On March 1st we held a very successful webinar/conference on Citizenship, Emigrants and Voting Rights to launch our Referendum campaign.

• Standing up for the hospitality industry

Along with my wife. Anne and my family we run a thriving restaurant business in Chicago employing over 350 people. As a businessman and employer, I have experienced at first-hand the serious problems facing employers and staff. I feel my experience in the Seanad and in the hospitality business both in the United States and previously in Galway, places me in a unique position to understand and speak on behalf of SMEs and the importance of Ireland as a global brand. Having handed over much of the day-to-day running of my restaurant business to my adult children. I am now residing in my family home in Galway. So many pubs and restaurants have suffered during the pandemic and we stand ready to answer the call when it comes to getting our country back up and running once again.

• SMEs – our innovators

Small business has been decimated by the pandemic and will continue to suffer until they can trade, develop and grow again when the economy reopens fully. SMEs are our largest employers, they are our innovators and they are the answer to getting our country back up and running again. I pledge to do all I can to ensure that the Government creates the environment to facilitate and support businesses in creating and developing enterprises.

Asking for your No.1

I ask for your NUMBER 1 vote in the Seanad bye-election and will be in contact with you personally in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, please feel free to call me with any questions about why a vote for me is the right choice.



Lawless for 2020

Irish Echo, By Ray Palour

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.


Billy Lawless Speaks to about E3 visas

Billy Lawless speaks to speak with Adrian Flannelly of 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:

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

Good Friday alcohol ban to be lifted from all premises by 2018

Irish Times | June 13th, 2017

Good Friday alcohol ban: the Bill tabled by Independent Senator Billy Lawless would have removed the 90-year-old prohibition only for pubs and off-licences.

The Government is to ensure that the lifting of the ban on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday will apply to all premises rather than be restricted to pubs.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald had already announced that the Government would not oppose a Private Member’s Bill, tabled by the Independent Senator Billy Lawless earlier this year, that sought to remove the 90-year-old ban for pubs and off-licences.

Read full article.

Billy Lawless: the former dairy farmer turned senator for the Irish diaspora

By Maria Moynihan on 08 June 2017,

Former dairy farmer Billy Lawless has become one of Chicago’s most successful restaurateurs. He wants to bring that same drive to his role as senator for the Irish diaspora, writes Maria Moynihan.

It’s been 40 years since Billy Lawless was interviewed by The Irish Farmers Journal. “We were in liquid milk in Galway city,” he explains, as he settles behind his desk at Seanad Éireann, “and I was rowing for Ireland at the time.”

An update, then, is somewhat overdue.

Because who could have predicted back then that Billy would become the first senator for the diaspora because of his work for the undocumented Irish in the United States, having immigrated there himself 20 years ago: going on to become one of Chicago’s most successful restaurateurs, employing over 300 people.


Among the framed family photos on the window sill, we spot one of Billy and his wife Anne with Barack Obama, snapped when he introduced the then-US president at a rally on immigration reform in the Windy City in 2014.

A long way from Dangan on the outskirts of Galway city – where the university playing pitches are today and where the Lawless family once farmed.

His mother, Nelly Fitzgerald, moved to Galway from Clonakilty in the 1940s and, according to Billy, “introduced, single-handedly actually, the small chick to all of the West of Ireland and the Aran Islands”.

“They used to call her Bean Na gCearc,” he smiles of the relationship she built up with the farmers’ wives that she advised on poultry keeping. “She was the first woman in Galway to have a government car.”

His father, Tom Lawless, was similarly “ahead of his time”, despite having left school at just 11, after his father died. With innovations like a portable petrol four-unit milking machine, he built up a successful liquid-milk business, supplying local hotels like the Skeffington Arms and the Great Southern on Eyre Square.

long arms

“That’s where I got my long arms from,” laughs Billy of how farming lent itself to his later rowing career. “Lifting six-gallon cans up three flights of stairs into the restaurants.”

With an outlying farm in Feeragh as well, Billy built up the business, but after marrying at 20 (“A much older woman: she was 21!”) and starting their family, he decided to sell up in 1977. “But I did love it,” he reflects, “it was a tough decision for me to make.”

Given his exposure to the hospitality trade through the milk business, perhaps it’s no surprise he went that route, buying his first pub, The Gallows, on Prospect Hill and gradually building his portfolio to include The Tribesman and Trigger Martyn’s on Shop St, and later The 12 Pins hotel in Barna, as well as becoming president of the Vintners Federation en route.

He also went into forestry, first in Woodford and later in Pettigo in Co Donegal. But yet?

“There was always a yen to open a business in the States and see could I hack it,” admits Billy, who finally took the plunge when his daughter got a college rowing scholarship in Massachusetts.

“I said: ‘Do you know what? That’s a sign,” he says, explaining how he, Anne and their four children, Billy Jr, John Paul, Amy and Clodagh, immigrated to the States on 1 January 1998 on a business visa after selling The 12 Pins.

“I was 47 years of age,” he says. “I remember my accountant saying to my solicitor: ‘Ah, he’ll be back, Billy. It’s just a fad.’ And I suppose if you had sat down and thought about it… man it was a monumental move. Lock, stock and barrel.”


While Boston was the most obvious choice to set up in business, a trip to Chicago turned Billy’s head towards the mid-west, and he opened his first pub, The Irish Oak, just 100 yards from Wrigley Field, home of the famed Chicago Cubs.

“I didn’t even know who the Cubs were,” he admits, explaining that many people thought it was “hilarious opening an Irish pub in the middle of the holy grail of baseball”.

Clearly they were mistaken.

Today, Billy runs one of Chicago’s leading fine-dining restaurateurs, with The Gage and Acanto on Michigan Avenue, along with the Dearborn Tavern across from City Hall. He, however, credits his children with the progression of the business: all four are involved, while Billy Jr also runs The Beacon, The Dawson and Coda di Volpe.

“I think they did what I did with my father,” he reflects. “I progressed the farm on from what he had and multiplied the numbers, and my own children took what we had, The Irish Oak, and went up another notch, which is progression the way it should be.

“But the restaurant business is like farming. If you’re not a worker, you’re not going to make it. It’s as simple as that.”

But back to The Irish Oak days for a moment, which is where Billy first became engaged in immigrant rights and reform.

The pub quickly became a hub for the Irish community – particularly those in the construction industry – and Billy recalls the day in 2002 when he was approached by a group of tradesmen who were unable to get driving licenses due to their illegal status, looking for representation.

“They asked me would I help them to get drivers’ licences and I said I would,” he explains, “and we formed the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform to see what we could do in the State of Illinois for drivers’ licences.”

And while it took almost 12 years, Billy was instrumental in lobbying for the introduction of temporary visitor driving licenses (TVDLs) for the undocumented in 2014, which allows them to drive legally, without fear of being pulled over and deported.

“And since then, 280,000 have been tested and granted licenses,” he says, explaining that as TVDL holders must have valid insurance, it’s a “win-win” for all road users.

But while Billy started by representing the Irish community, he soon realised the power of co-operation with other groups, and went on to become vice-president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

He explains how they were “so close” to achieving immigration reform in both 2007 and 2013, but that with the election of President Trump, “we’re as far away as ever”.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. Who does?” he says, as he explains the day-to-day reality of the undocumented Irish in the US in the midst of such uncertainty.

“You can’t open a bank account, you can’t get a social security number and you can’t go on a plane,” he lists, explaining that heartbreakingly, many people have to watch their parents’ funerals “on Skype” because they can’t risk returning home.

“And you get the criticism: ‘Well, why did they have to go there in the first place?’ Well, they had to go. Most people don’t want to leave their native land,” he continues. “I left by choice; but 99% didn’t.”


Billy himself became an American citizen in 2014, receiving a personal letter of congratulations from President Obama. The following year he was awarded the accolade of Freeman of Galway City, as well as receiving an honorary doctorate from NUI Galway – but he admits that he was “flabbergasted” when he was chosen by Enda Kenny as the first emigrant Senator for the Irish diaspora living overseas.

“It’s just an incredible honour to represent them,” he says.

While reform might be at a standstill Stateside with Trump, he points out that more could be done here to incentivise people to come home. For example, to open up the help-to-buy scheme to returning emigrants, or to recognise no-claims bonuses earned abroad when getting car insurance.

“There should be no impediments for a young family coming home who wants to buy a home, who wants to work and has a job, doesn’t want to live off the State. That’s not what they’re coming home for,” he stresses.

“They want to be an asset to society. We shouldn’t have impediments in their way. We should be making it so easy for them.”

As a founding member of Voting, Billy is also fully supportive of the planned constitutional referendum to allow Irish citizens living abroad the right to vote in the presidential election in 2025 and has called for a worldwide grassroots campaign for a “Yes” vote.

Earlier this year, he also tabled the bill to end the closing of pubs on Good Friday – a bugbear since his Vintners’ days – but diaspora affairs are his focus going forward, as he commutes between Leinster House and the US.

“I’m working harder now at 66 than I was working 10 years ago,” he smiles, as the interview draws to a close. A gallop through 40 years in just over 60 minutes. Next time, we won’t wait so long… CL


Extending voting rights to Irish citizens abroad for presidential elections speech

Speech by Senator Billy Lawless at Global Civic Forum 

Good morning. I am honoured to represent the Global Irish. We have a world-wide constituency of 1.73 million citizens.

First, by allowing emigrants to vote, we have the possibility of creating a third historic opportunity to expand the franchise. The first expansion of the franchise came in the 19th Century, when Daniel O’Connell ensured Catholics got the vote. The second expansion came in 1916.

At the core of the 1916 Rising was a demand for equal rights and equal citizenship. And as a result of the revolution everyone over the age of 21 – both men and women –got to vote by 1923 – 1.7 million citizens voted. So the revolution was a success; politically we had become a more equal society.

But in the intervening decades, Ireland has lost its way and has become a less equal society. We now have a three tier system of citizenship.

Voters in the Republic are first class citizens, who get to vote. Citizens living off the island are second class citizens, and cannot vote. And then there are – of course – the Irish citizens in the North of Ireland, several hundred thousand, just over the border who have Irish passports, but they are not allowed to vote either. They represent the third class.

As a result of this 3 tier voting system, Ireland is now out of step with the majority of it’s EU neighbours, and 130 other democracies around the world, that already allow their emigrants to vote.

In my opinion, our voting laws and regulations are no longer fit for purpose. Emigration has vastly changed. The relationship between Irish emigrants and Ireland has also changed dramatically. Emigrants come and go, and they are totally tuned into what is happening here in Ireland.

I believe this current 3 tier system of citizenship is undemocratic, unequal and does not meet the inclusive principles of equality that define the Irish Constitution.

And the ultimate problem with this 3 tier system is this, – if you don’t vote – you don’t count – and if you don’t count, you have no influence on the policies that have a direct impact, on the millions of emigrants living overseas, including those that create real roadblocks for those who want to come home.

In my opinion if you’re a citizen, you’re a citizen.

So I was very pleased when the Constitutional Convention recommended, that all Irish citizens be allowed to vote in the future, for the President of Ireland. And I was very pleased, that the Taoiseach took the next step, and called for a Constitutional referendum.

So now we have to give our best advice to the government on the wording of the Constitution.

I believe very strongly, that we need to put forward a Constitutional Amendment that is inclusive, and reflects recommendations of the Constitutional Convention.

In my opinion Option 2.2.1 is the best option – it reflects my opinion, that if you’re a citizen – you’re a citizen. You’re not a half citizen, a second class citizen or a third class citizen. And the most basic right and duty of a citizen, is to vote and that’s what we want to do.

Now, this is not going to be easy. We only have one shot at getting this across the line, to get the support of Irish voters. There is no guarantee. Referendums are historically a dicey thing here in Ireland.

We need to reassure and bring Irish public opinion along, and I will need your help to do that. You have to mobilize the Irish emigrant community, to use all of their connections back home, to win the vote.

We need to build on the work of groups around the world, like VICA and #Gettheboat2vote, that have worked so hard to secure the vote over the last few years.

The 1.73 million emigrants overseas all have families and friends here at home, and who need to vote YES on Referendum Day.

So we need a world-wide grass roots campaign. We need emigrants calling home, and emigrants coming home by the thousands, to help us WIN this referendum. We can make this happen with your help.

I am also greatly concerned, that 240,000 young Irish citizens that left Ireland because of the recession, are becoming another lost generation of voters. Let’s get these young people back, and let’s get them voting.

It’s time for Ireland to catch up with our E.U. neighbours, and the rest of the world’s democracies, and modernize our voting system. It’s time to give us the vote.

Next year will be the centenary of women getting the right to vote in 1918 – for expanding the franchise. I look forward to celebrating that centenary but let’s also celebrate winning this referendum as well.

Last night we saw a wonderful video on Ireland’s bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The video ended stating “Ireland is ready for the World”.

So my question is this – Is Ireland ready for us emigrant citizens?

So let me conclude. I listen to all my colleagues in the Dáil and the Seanad, and I always hear them complaining about the apathy of voters when they go door to door.

Well, my constituents – all l.73 million of them – are Irish, where ever they are, and they are passionate about gaining the vote. They care about Ireland. They love Ireland. They want the best for Ireland’s future, just like all of you.

So to the emigrants of Ireland, whether you’re in London, New York or off in Australia, now is the time to come together and get organized.

Now is the time, to at long last become first class citizens by winning this referendum.
And to the people of Ireland we say;

Tabhair dúinn an vóta – Give us the Vote.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.