Category: Press Release

Minister Ross Announces New Driver Licensing Measures to Help Returning Emigrants and Others

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

http://www.dttas.ie/press-releases/2018/minister-ross-announces-new-driver-licensing-measures-help-returning-emigrants

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.”

VotingRights.ie to launch call for enfranchisement of overseas citizens

1.73 million Irish citizens denied opportunity to vote by outdated election laws

VotingRights.ie, a global coalition of Irish emigrant groups and citizens seeking to secure the vote for the 1.73 million Irish citizens now living overseas, will release a policy paper and reform agenda on emigrant voting next week. The group will hold a press conference to launch the paper at Buswell’s Hotel (Georgian Suite) at 27 Molesworth Street, Dublin on Wednesday, 3 May at 3 pm.
The paper highlights the fact that about one third of all Irish citizens are currently disenfranchised. Senator Billy Lawless, one of the three co-founders of VotingRights.ie. stated “We appreciate the fact that the Taoiseach, the Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan and the Minister of the Diaspora Joe McHugh T.D. have made a consistent effort to engage Irish emigrants and the greater Diaspora. It’s greatly appreciated.” Lawless went on “but we think the pace of change is too slow.”
VotingRights.ie is releasing its ten-point reform agenda on the eve of the second Global Irish Civic Forum organized by the Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Forum is scheduled to take up the government’s Options paper released in March in light of the decision by the Taoiseach and the Cabinet to approve a national referendum on whether Irish citizens residing outside the state can vote in future Presidential elections.
Noreen Bowden, the policy director for VotingRights.ie stated, “Ireland’s current voting regulations do not meet current E.U. or global norms. We’re up to around 130 nations that now allow emigrants to vote. Ireland, unfortunately, is not one of them. Citizens abroad are now treated like second-class citizens, with no ability to exercise their most fundamental right as citizens because Ireland lacks an absentee ballot process.” Bowden continued, “Ireland has a choice to either expand the franchise and meet the norms of a 21st-century democracy or continue to accept a status quo that over time will make the nation less democratic, less equal and more insular.”
VotingRights.ie believes that Ireland now has a third historic opportunity to expand the franchise if the nation will adopt the proposed reform agenda. Speakers at the press conference will include,
• Senator Billy Lawless, Independent Senator for the Global Irish and co-founder of VotingRights.ie
• Senator Michael McDowell, former Attorney General (1999 to 2002) Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform( 2002- 2007) and Tánaiste (2006- 2007)
• Senator Catherine Noone, Deputy Leader of the Seanad and Fine Gael Seanad Spokesperson on Children.
• Senator Mark Daly, Fianna Fail Seanad Deputy Group Leader and Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs
• Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, Sinn Féin, former Lord Mayor of Belfast
Link to Options paper: http://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/voting_at_presidential_elections_by_citizens_resident_outside_the_state_-_options_paper_-_22_march_2017.pdf

Senator Billy Lawless welcomes announcement of Referendum on voting Rights for Irish Abroad

Senator Billy Lawless today welcomed the announcement by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny that a Referendum is to be held regarding voting rights for Irish citizens abroad and in Northern Ireland in Irish Presidential elections.

As the first Senator for the Global Irish and a co-founder of Votingrights.ie – a coalition of groups and individuals dedicated to advancing the cause of emigrant voting rights – Senator Lawless has wholeheartedly embraced the announcement stating, “Ireland, with over 1 million emigrants living across the globe, has one of the most restrictive voting policies of any State. If 25 of the 28 EU nations can afford their citizens abroad the right to vote then why can’t we?”

“This core issue transcends normal partisan politics and speaks to the very nature of Irish citizenship in a nation whose very constitution under Article 2 states: it is the entitlement and birth right of every person born on the Island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation,” he said.

The nation as whole benefits when the diaspora is welcomed more fully into our body politic and the wider Irish family across the world is united in welcoming today’s move by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

“I look forward to discussing the details of the Referendum at the upcoming Global Irish Civic Forum in May and commit to campaigning for a positive result”, said Senator Lawless.

Diaspora Senator Billy Lawless calls for Minister for Education and Skills to end discrimination against Irish Citizens abroad for Third Level Free Fees Initiative

22ND February 2017

Continuing his campaign of advocacy for the Irish abroad, Senator Billy Lawless this afternoon called on the Minister for education and skills to stop the practice of discriminating against Irish Citizens abroad in the Free Fees Initiative at Third Level. Senator Lawless, who continues to highlight the barriers to returning Irish citizens including car insurance, driving licences and buying a home, today pointed out the innate unfairness which exists in the free fees initiative.

Senator Lawless drew attention to Article 2 of the Constitution which states that “it is the entitlement and birthright of every person born on the island of Ireland, which includes to its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland”. He told the Cathaoirleach that crucially, he wished the Minister to consider the final passage of Article 2 which reads “Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad, who share its cultural identity and heritage.”

Senator Lawless asked “How can the Department, the Higher Education Authority, or Third Level Colleges can determine that an Irish citizen who has resided in Ireland for three years is more worthy of access to a system than our Irish citizen living abroad?”

Independent Senator Billy Lawless introduces the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 to end Good Friday pub closures

23rd February 2017

Senator Billy Lawless today introduced his Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 which, if passed, would end the outdated practice of the closure of licenced premises on Good Friday.
Moving the Bill, which has been co-sponsored by Senators Victor Boyhan, Michael McDowell and Gerard Craughwell, Senator Lawless noted that “the Irish pub is an intrinsic part of our hugely successful tourism offering, and a major employer in the economy”.
“As a modern European nation we have outgrown this dated practice, and I hold this view as a citizen and Oireachtas representative, who respects all traditions and faiths” he continued.
“Thirty-five years ago I served as President of the Vintners Federation of Ireland and this issue, and campaign has continued up until today.”

Senator Lawless said “During that time we have witnessed and lived through many changes in Ireland, from the abolition of Holy Hour through to the passing of the Marriage Equality Referendum and it is now time to amend the Liquor Licencing legislation in a similar progressive vein”

He noted that many Oireachtas colleagues who are advocates of the current Public Health (Alcohol) Bill are in favour of Good Friday opening as licensed premises provide a safe, regulated and comfortable environment in which food and drink can be enjoyed by families, tourists and locals alike on one of the busiest weekends of the year.

 

Senator Lawless secures Ministerial support for retention of Long Wave 252 radio service for Irish diaspora in Britain

Senator Billy Lawless today sought government assurances that Irish emigrants in the UK would not lose their access to RTE radio, a vital link to home.

In a commencement debate in Seanad Éireann today, 2nd February, Senator Lawless outlined the fears of older Irish people in Britain over the threat that they would soon lose RTE radio on the long wave band, and highlighted that this generation cannot be forgotten or disregarded as the digital age bypasses their generation.

Joe McHugh, Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Trade visited the Upper House to debate this issue with Senator Lawless, Taoiseach’s nominee to Seanad Éireann in 2016.

While the retention of the long wave service is ultimately a matter for RTE, Senator Lawless reminded the house of RTE’s public service remit, citing a recent study into emigrants use of long wave which found that 92% of respondents indicated that they listened daily to RTE on the service at home or in the car, not via digital platforms.

Minister McHugh committed that his Department is working closely with RTE to ensure that the views of this elderly vulnerable community are heard in the imminent decision making process.

Commencement Matters
Broadcasting Service Provision

Senator Billy Lawless:    I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for selecting this matter. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Joe McHugh, to the House to discuss this important issue.

 I take my appointment as Ireland’s first emigrant Senator seriously. That mandate not only extends to the US diaspora, with which I am more familiar, but to the entire diaspora across the globe. One issue which comes up time and again with elderly members of the UK’s Irish diaspora is the continued access to RTE long wave radio service which is set to be abolished at some point in 2017. There may be many young or more digitally orientated people in RTE management who may scoff at the notion of retaining for what for them may be a feature of bygone era.  However, this narrow thinking does not understand the richness RTE provides for the tens of thousands of listeners in the UK who tune into RTE long wave every single day.
  There are more than 600,000 Irish-born emigrants living in the UK, with many of its older members forced out of Ireland in the 1950s with little education and no prospects of work at home. In January 2016, the Social Policy Research Centre at Middlesex University London, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, conducted a study into some of those emigrants’ usage of RTE long wave. Up to 92% of respondents to the survey stated they listen every day or most days, with 44% listening to it in the car or another vehicle. Less than half the respondents had used a television or some form of digital device to access the radio. Unsurprisingly, it was the so-called older age groups who did not access the service on digital radio platforms on a laptop or digital TV.
  Will the Minister of State consider this survey, given it was funded by the previous Government, and implore RTE management to reconsider this ageist and discriminatory cut to RTE long wave planned for 2017? Nobody is trying to halt the digitalisation of our media or impede RTE in its process of modernisation. However, RTE must be reminded of its public service remit.
  The historic first state visit of Uachtarán na hÉireann to the United Kingdom in 2014 was an incredible moment for the Irish UK community, particularly the elderly who have been through difficult times for the Irish in the UK during the Troubles.  Anyone watching the concerts and events held around the President’s visit could see for themselves that they reconnected many Irish men and women of humble economic and social backgrounds in a way that had not been felt for many generations. This was an extremely proud moment, not just for those immigrants, but for the global Irish diaspora. It showed that this nation is taller than its borders. I ask the Minister of State what kind of message is sent to those people when three years later we turn the switch off on RTE radio, which is the daily, and perhaps only, link to home here in Ireland for so many. Thankfully, we have exited the period of austerity. It seems an extremely harsh and unfair decision for RTE to directly target some of the most elderly and vulnerable people who use the station’s services. This is not what public service broadcasting is supposed to be about.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Joe McHugh):   Go raibh maith agat a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as an gceist tábhachtach seo a chur faoin tseirbhís thar a bheith tábhachtach ar son muintir na hÉireann sa Bhreatain.

 By way of background on this matter, in September 2014, RTE announced plans to shut down its long wave 252 service, which enables RTE Radio 1 to be broadcast into Britain. While the initial plan was for the long wave service to close on 27 October 2014, this was further deferred until 19 January 2015. On 18 December 2014, a decision was taken to continue long wave radio services until 2017.

 Following this announcement, the Government’s emigrant support programme, which is administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, supported research into the listenership figures in Britain for the RTE long wave service. The purpose of this research was to obtain concrete data on the current listenership and also to explore the possibility of continuing the service using alternate technologies. The research was conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre at Middlesex University, which was appointed following a competitive tender process run by Irish in Britain, the national representative organisation for the Irish community in England, Scotland and Wales. Information was gathered through individual submissions, group submissions and focus groups. Overseeing the research was a consultative group of key stakeholders composed of representatives of RTE, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials based in Dublin and at the Embassy of Ireland in London, and representatives of the Irish community in Britain.
 
The figures show that out of 3,191 people who completed the individual surveys, 72% of those who responded were over 60, while 68% of respondents were born in Ireland and 62% were retired. For the majority of respondents, long wave was seen as a lifeline to Ireland, helping them to maintain a sense of Irishness and to keep up with events back home. The majority of listeners in the focus groups preferred the familiar, analogue service as opposed to digital platforms, computers, laptops and smartphones. The Government recognises the special value placed on RTE’s long wave 252 service by some Irish citizens in the Britain, especially the elderly, and my Department is working closely with RTE to ensure that the views of this community are heard in any decision-making process.

  While any decision on the future of long wave services in Britain is ultimately an operational matter for RTE, it can, as a result of the study, now be informed by awareness of the role that the service plays in preserving and enhancing links with Ireland and keeping our people in Britain informed of important events and developments, such as the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and the Irish Government’s position. A meeting of the consultative group will take place in London next week in order to discuss the next steps, explore possible ways forward In the context of maintaining the link with audiences in Britain, and of keeping the Irish community involved in decision-making. I am hopeful that a positive outcome can be achieved.

Senator Billy Lawless:   I thank the Minister of State. That is very encouraging and I am sure my colleagues will be more than happy with his response. It is vital that we look after our elderly, not just in the UK, but also in the United States. Our Irish emigrant population is getting older and they need these links.

Senator Catherine Noone:   Hear, hear.

Senator Billy Lawless:   I am delighted to hear the Minister of State’s response.
  While he is here, will the Minister of State indicate if a decision has been taken in respect of the undocumented Irish. This matter is close to my heart and, of course, to the Minister of State’s as well. Will he provide an update with regard to what has happened in the past ten days in the United States?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:   That is a separate matter. If the Minister of State wishes to respond, I will call on him.

Deputy Joe McHugh:   Out of respect to the Senator’s global reach, which is not just confined to the UK, I wish to state for the record that there is an intensive effort going in to continuing the dialogue and conversation with all our front-line services in America. It also continues at a political level in the US Senate and House of Representatives. The Senator is involved in that effort. He took part in a very important meeting in America on 12 January. Those meetings with the consulates and the embassy are so important. In the context of what we can control in terms of budget, in last year’s programme €2.3 million was allocated to the emigrant support service. We support many emigrant support services, be it in San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, New York or whatever part of America, and we need to continue that.
  We also need to continue work on our strong relationship with the US. When the Taoiseach travels to the White House on 17 March, it is going to be about that relationship. Foremost in the minds of every politician, including my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, who is in the US this week, is the undocumented. That is a top priority and it will continue to be. It was my priority when I was in San Francisco, New York and Boston. I am going again – the Senator will be joining me- to visit the the east coast and we have to make it a priority because there are people feeling vulnerable at the moment. We have to ensure that the relationship that was always there between Ireland and the United States continues, in a similar vein to the Senator’s comments on the relationship with the United Kingdom. They are two separate issues but one and the same in terms of keeping the relationships strong.
Senator Billy Lawless:   I thank the Minister of State.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:   I thank the Minister of State. That was very nice.

Undocumented Irish watching with trepidation following Trump’s Executive Order

Press Release 30th January, 2017

On Friday January, 27th 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order that halted refugee resettlement from seven muslim-majority countries for 90 days. The executive order also included legal permanent residents and dual citizens holding a passport from any of the seven countries listed.

The result was confusion and fear among immigrant and refugee communities across the United States and at its major airports. “Yesterday I stood as Senator for the global Irish in solidarity with immigrant and refugee community groups at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport”, said Senator Lawless. Over 5,000 people turned out in an impromptu show of force and defiance to denounce president Trump’s Executive Orders. They were joined by similar protests in New York, Boston, Denver and 33 other airports across the United States.

“America is a nation of laws but it is also a nation of values. It has always been outward-looking and welcoming to immigrants of all faiths and lands,” “These Executive Orders do not reflect the spirit of the American people or the country’s leadership role in the world,” Senator Lawless expressed.

Senator Lawless has called on the Trump Administration to rescind this Executive Order and follow the words of Pope Francis who admonishes us to welcome the stranger and those fleeing suffering or persecution.

Yesterday I joined a young man from the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society in Chicago who’s parents are both green card holders from Iraq, where they had spent 10 years working for American NGOs helping to rebuild a ravaged country. Othman Al Ani’s mother travelled to Egypt recently to visit a son she had not seen for 8 years but as of yesterday she remained trapped in Egypt unable to return home as a result of this ban.

“In this climate the 50,000 Irish undocumented in the United States are watching closely with fear and trepidation for their future. I stand ready to work with the Irish government to represent the interests of our most vulnerable citizens living abroad and I will encourage the Taoiseach to continue to raise this issue at the highest levels of the US government” Senator Lawless confirmed.