Category: Seanad News & Contributions

Senate Speech on Trump’s Executive Order

Speech on Order of Business, Tuesday, 31st January, 2017


On Friday, January 27th 2017 President Trump signed an executive order that halted the entire refugee programme for Syria for 4 months.

Citizens from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen are blocked for 3 months.

The executive order also included legal permanent residents and dual citizens holding a passport from any of the countries listed.

The result was confusion and fear among immigrant and refugee communities across the United States and at its major airports.

The reaction by ordinary American citizens to this un-American act however, has been nothing short of extraordinary.

On Sunday, I stood as Senator for the global Irish in solidarity with immigrant and refugee community groups at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. 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.

More than 50 people at O’Hare airport alone were detained.

Citizens and Green Card holders with valid visas were detained by customs and border control agents.

New York Federal Judge, Anne Donnelly, a good Irish-American, granted a stay on any deportations and eventually anyone detained was released.

On Sunday, I met 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 Non-Government Organisations, 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 Sunday, she remained trapped in Egypt, unable to return home as a result of this ban.

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 Billy Lawless.

Seanad to be turned into BREXIT Chamber of Inquiry

-Independent Senators secure Taoiseach’s support for BREXIT Seanad Inquiry


Click on Image to View PDF

Speaking at the announcement of an all-party Seanad inquiry on BREXIT, to take place in the New Year, Group Leader Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell welcomed the Taoiseach’s support for their proposal.
“As a group of Independent Senators, we have been working behind the scenes to secure the support across all parties, as well as the Taoiseach, to turn the Seanad Chamber into a BREXIT chamber of inquiry.
The House of Lords this week has shown the influence parliament can play in shaping the BREXIT discussions from a UK perspective, our aim is have the same effect, but with Ireland’s interest at heart.”
Senator Michael McDowell emphasised the constitutional implications that BREXIT may bring to these shores.
For instance, the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish Constitution confer the right to Irish citizenship to people born in Northern Ireland. That means that people born in one part of the United Kingdom may be regarded as EU Citizens even though the United Kingdom as such has ceased to be part of the EU.
The notification by the UK of Article 50 before the end of March next year could have immediate impact on the Good Friday Agreement.
The Irish people amended Ireland’s constitution to allow this state to be bound by the Good Friday agreement. Depending on the extent of any changes to the Good Friday agreement, there could be constitutional issues for this state .
Senator Gerard Craughwell said there were many workers across the Irish economy who could suffer quite dramatically from the consequences of BREXIT unless necessary measures were taken.
“The Department of Finance have already calculated that almost 100,000 workers are in BREXIT exposed sectors. We hope that this all party inquiry will help assist in formulating concrete proposals for an industrial policy that will protect these jobs.
Across the education sector, there are also consequences that have not been widely considered. There is significant concern that the 10,905 Irish students currently studying in UK colleges and universities could return to Ireland, causing further funding difficulties within third level education.”

Independent Senators Booklet on Brexit (Download PDF)

Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016

This is certainly a day of debate on justice and equality issues. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is very welcome. I commend Senator Mark Daly for bringing the Bill before the House again. It is clear that he has shown great commitment to this most important cause. The Bill is primarily about equality, ensuring equal opportunities for all citizens and I will lend it my full support. Recognition of Irish Sign Language by the State is something that should have occurred many years ago. Irish Sign Language is recognised in Northern Ireland but not in the Republic. The lack of recognition impacts on members of the deaf community in almost all of their interactions with the State, in education, health care provision and even the justice system, ultimately marginalising them.

This is a matter which affects almost 40,000 citizens. Irish Sign Language is used by deaf people, their families, friends and colleagues. Members of the deaf community do not have the same access to public services as other citizens. Lack of access to Irish Sign Language in education, in particular, is a source of great concern. It impacts further on the employability of members of the deaf community. As such, many members of the deaf community feel marginalised, economically and socially. This important legislation should provide improved access for members of the deaf community to education services, benefiting, in particular, the youth and, I hope, reducing their sense of marginalisation. Within the justice system, excluding criminal court proceedings, there is no automatic right of deaf people to an Irish Sign Language interpreter. This is available in Northern Ireland but not here in the Republic. As a State, we need to be able to afford this to our citizens as a basic right. Without the protections in law inscribed in this Bill, deaf people will continue to face these barriers throughout their lives. I am voting in favour of the Bill as I hope it will bring about real change and equality for the deaf community in Ireland.

Seanad Reform Speech

Billy Lawless Speech 12th October 2016


A total of 35 million people in the US, 16 million in Great Britain, 4.5 million in Canada, 2 million in Australia and 500,000 in Argentina claim Irish heritage. Ireland is much greater than the jurisdiction of this Parliament and broader than the community of this island. Tens of millions of people around the world claim Irish heritage. I am the first representative of those interests to have been afforded a voice in the Houses of the Oireachtas. At a time when our neighbours across the sea are retrenching from European partnership, when the party of Abraham Lincoln in the US is calling for borders to be closed and trade links severed, now is the time for Ireland to send a message and reach out to its community across the globe. I can think of no better way of demonstrating to the Irish diaspora that Ireland wants it to be part of our State and our community than expanding the franchise of this House and building a Seanad that can have a meaningful impact, not just on these shores but much further afield.

When the Irish people voted to preserve the Seanad in 2013, they did not do so out of any true affinity to how this House operated. The people gave the Houses of the Oireachtas the clearest mandate they have ever received to reform the Seanad. We must look forward and this Bill is a leap in that direction. Giving Irish citizens with current passports living abroad the chance to be eligible to register and vote on a panel of their choice for the Seanad would give a clear voice to the Irish emigrant community that I represent. It is estimated there are 3.1 million Irish passport holders living overseas. Affording these people a vote in our Seanad should be just the first step in redefining Ireland. A European Union without the United Kingdom, with which we have always shared common positions on trade, investment and taxation, will be one where Ireland needs to present itself as a nation of 70 million people and not as a small country on the periphery of Europe. The emigrant voice needs to be heard and we need to connect with that voice.

Studies have shown that, over time, a 10% increase in immigration in a particular country is associated with a 1% increase of exports to that country and a 3% increase in imports from it. Networking and strengthening connections with the diaspora has consistently been shown to increase economic activity in the home country. Whether it is Israel becoming the world’s second largest venture capital market or India becoming a global technology hub, it is the diaspora strategies of those states that has been at the root of their success. We need to harness the Irish diaspora now more than ever to ensure more investment in this country, more jobs, and greater economic stability in the face of the inevitable economic winds this country will face as a result of Brexit.

It is not just the economic benefits of providing the diaspora with representation in this House that should be considered but also the enormous cultural, political and social ties that have led to transformative changes in Irish society and that show why the diaspora deserve to vote for representatives of this House. Nowhere was this more evident than the same-sex marriage referendum where more than 70,000 returning emigrants were estimated to have flown home to vote and have their say in such a significant change to this country’s social identity. Speaking in the Dáil in 1963, President John F. Kennedy summed up the interwoven fabric of the diaspora to this State’s development best when he said:

If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather might never have left New Ross, and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you. Of course, if your own President had never left Brooklyn, he might be standing up here instead of me.

In describing the modern Ireland, he extolled the virtues of a truly global independent Ireland:

For self-determination can no longer mean isolation; and the achievement of national independence today means withdrawal from the old status only to return to the world scene with a new one.

His words have as much meaning today as they did in 1963. Ireland must stand on its two feet on the global stage and we need our diaspora to achieve that. I commend all those who have worked on this Bill and it is my sincere hope that Dáil Éireann and this Seanad can see swift passage of the reforms in this Bill, empowering the diaspora with a vote, sending a clear message to Ireland’s global community that we are listening and that we want their voices to be heard now more than ever.

Seanad Éireann Makes History with Address by US Citizen Manus Cooney

Former Chief Counsel to Senator Orinn Hatch- the former Chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee in the US Senate – addressed An Seanad Eireann on Wednesday October 5th. Mr Cooney runs a successful political consulting firm in Washington D.C. and is an expert on immigration reform, missing and exploited children and the undocumented Irish. He is the only American citizen to address the chamber in recent times.

He has provided his expertise and pro bono assistance to Irish community groups in the USA as they seek immigration reform for the estimated 50.000 Irish undocumented living in the USA. Mr Cooney himself an Irish American stated: “It is a huge honor to be invited to address An Seanad Eireann and I look forward to continuing to pursue the issue of immigration reform, in particular for the undocumented Irish”.

Response to Manus Cooney Speech in Seanad

I thank Mr. Cooney for being with us today to share his insights and expertise and for all his work on comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. As he knows, 50,000 undocumented Irish have been living in the United States for well over a decade now. In Illinois, many of them worked hard and paid taxes and yet none of them had a driver’s licence, which put them in grave danger, as Mr. Cooney knows, of deportation. A campaign was started 12 years ago to secure temporary driving licences for all the uninsured, undocumented drivers in Illinois. I am happy to say that, after building a broad coalition of immigrant rights groups, faith institutions, unions, businesses and cross-party bipartisan support, Republican and Democratic, the Bill that provided relief to over 250,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois was passed. That model of co-operation among diverse sectors and across the political divide solved the problem that bedevilled the Irish undocumented and hundreds of thousands of others.

In addition, 11 other states and two territories followed suit with similar legislation that would affect millions. We took the decision after the 2013 Senate Bill to work locally and try to influence local states, and our bipartisanship models have worked. I am a firm believer in building consensus on core issues that affect broader society and the type of bipartisan efforts we witnessed in Illinois. Harking back to a not-too-distant time in Washington, two great Irish-American politicians, President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, reached across the aisle to find common-sense solutions to problems besetting the United States.

As Mr. Cooney knows, we took that spirit of co-operation to Washington DC to try to achieve a comprehensive immigration reform that would legalise 11 million undocumented workers, including the Irish. In 2013, we came very close with the gang of eight Senate bipartisan Bill which included a provision granting 10,500 visas for the Irish. When the Bill was in the throes of debate, I went to Luis Gutierrez, who is our championing Democratic leader for Hispanics and immigration reform. I told him there was a small Bill for the Irish for some visas. He asked me how many was a few, and I told him it was 10,500. He told me that was nothing. There was no objection to the main group that was in there with us.

Our hopes were dashed when the negotiations fell apart and the Bill died in the House. Since then, pundits have argued that immigration reform is a third rail and should be avoided by both parties in Washington. Advocates, like Mr. Cooney and many others, continue to keep the pressure on and the dream alive. Albert Einstein once said only those who attempt the absurd achieve the impossible.

My question has been asked already. When does Mr. Cooney think it will be appropriate to start lobbying the new Administration when the next President takes office? How does he rate the chances of immigration reform? He more or less answered that question in his contribution. Would an immigration Bill be piecemeal or comprehensive? Does he think that the political will exists on both sides to include an Irish E3 Visa, as we secured in the 2013 Bill? I again thank him for addressing the House.

Welcome Speech to Taoiseach in Seanad Éireann

I welcome the Taoiseach. Irish people who live abroad are delighted that he appointed a Senator with a specific brief to advocate for their concerns, particularly with regard to the undocumented status of many of them. Two weeks ago, I attended the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Harp and Shamrock Society in San Antonio. I stayed directly across from the Alamo, where many Irish people died. Twelve of those who died there were born in Ireland and a further 20 were of Irish descent. Thirty of the 300 people who attended the event a fortnight ago were born in Ireland. This shows how diverse the Irish community in that region is. The same thing can be said of every state in the US.

As the Taoiseach knows, the United States is less than 40 days away from a presidential election, the result of which will be as close as any in recent memory. The Irish and immigrant rights community in the US is watching the race extremely closely, as opinions on immigration expressed by the two candidates could not be further apart in substance or tone. I was in New York last week with the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh. We met representatives of Irish community and immigration advocacy groups. I assure the Taoiseach that they are already planning their responses to either a Trump or a Clinton victory in the forthcoming election and are preparing their strategies for the first 100 days of the next Presidency.

The Irish community leaders I met in Ireland House asked me and the Irish Government to petition the next President of the US and the US Congress for new visas for the Irish. They made the case that Ireland lost 18,000 visas a year under the 1965 immigration law, which today results in fewer than 350 green cards being issued to Irish people I feel that the political will exists in Congress. Irish people punch way above our weight. Given that 10,500 visas were secured in a 2013 Senate Bill, I believe an Irish visa Bill could pass if the Irish Government joined forces with legislative allies on Capitol Hill and Irish community groups to make a major push.

Irish companies now employ more Americans in the US than American companies employ here in Ireland. As the Taoiseach is aware, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, is very proud of his Irish roots and is a major advocate of immigration reform. Will the Taoiseach, through his Ministers and the ambassador, make contact with the next President, whoever he or she may be, to ensure a visa Bill for the Irish is initiated? I suggest that any visa Bill should also provide for a path for the undocumented Irish, who would not be averse to coming back to Ireland to secure such a visa at the US Embassy here if it were guaranteed that they could return to the US.

I thank the Taoiseach for his commitment to the diaspora and to the issue of voting rights for immigrants abroad. As the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, alongside Ambassador Anderson, noted in New York, we have a constitutional obligation to the Irish diaspora under the Good Friday Agreement. This statement was wholeheartedly appreciated by the community leaders we met in America. They also wondered about the Government’s stance on the voting rights issue. Can we expect that a referendum on this matter will be held and the result implemented in time for the 2018 Irish Presidential election? The subject of immigration reform and the plight of the undocumented Irish are of relevance to the process of Seanad reform that is currently under discussion.

Maiden Speech in the Seanad

Tá an-áthas orm bheith anseo inniu. Táim trí scór is cúig bliana d’aois. Níor cheap mé riamh go mbéinn anseo i Seanad Éireann mar Sheanadóir ag labhairt ar son na mílte Éireannaigh atá thar lear, go háirithe sna Stáit Aontaithe. Is mór an onóir é sin. Tá súil agam go mbeidh mé in ann gach cúnamh agus tacaíocht a thabhairt do na daoine atá luaite agam. I ndáiríre, tá an t-ádh liom. I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me an opportunity to speak. This is truly an historic moment for the Seanad and the people of Ireland, regardless of where in the world they live. I stand here as the first Irish citizen emigrant to be appointed to this Chamber. I am here to give official voice to the millions of Irish men and women who have left these shores but have not forgotten the land of their birth or lost their innate sense of Irish identity. More than 70 million people throughout the world claim Irish ancestry. My appointment to the Seanad is an official and long-overdue nod to Ireland’s diaspora and an acknowledgement that the people of this proud and ancient island desire a modern and mature relationship with their fellow Irish men and women who live in other lands. I look forward to sterling debate and action in the Seanad for all the undocumented in the US.

It is with great honour and a deep sense of humility that I take up my post in this Twenty-fifth Seanad of the Irish Republic to represent Ireland’s emigrants. I thank the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and his Government colleagues for their continued commitment to the diaspora. This has been made manifest by my presence in the Chamber today. Like countless men and women before me, I left Ireland to begin a new life for myself and my family in the US. In my case, I left for Chicago in 1998. Ireland and the US share a deep and enduring bond that has been forged over the centuries in common kinship, epic struggles and shared values. More than 40 million Americans claim Irish ancestry. Many of them are descended from the more than 1 million desperate men and women who fled this country during the ravages of the terrible Famine. I remind Senators of what President John F. Kennedy said on this issue when he addressed the Oireachtas in 1963:

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, they faced a cold welcome, not unlike that received by today’s desperate immigrants and refugees fleeing war and famine. Despite that, the Irish set about building a new life for themselves and in the process helped to build the United States of America.

Emigration from these shores continues today, although it is diminishing rapidly, thank God. If one stands on the south side of Chicago, one is likely to hear brogues from the four corners of Ireland. The Irish continue to make their mark on the US and on countries throughout the world. From Argentina to Australia and from Dubai to Italy, Irish citizens are moving, innovating and working in every conceivable industry. In an era of global citizenship, when people are more mobile and nations are more interdependent than ever, Ireland has to choose between adapting to an ever-changing definition of nationhood and of Irish citizenship by embracing her diaspora, or looking away and focusing inward. The revolutionaries of 1916 certainly did not choose the latter option. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, I am confident that the lofty ideals of the Proclamation’s reference to “cherishing all the children of the nation” are being fulfilled. Today’s open and inclusive Ireland is redefining the meaning of nationhood and, in so doing, is reaching out to our diaspora in ways that have never been done before. My appointment to the Seanad is just the first step in this process.

Last Wednesday, I listened on the Internet to some of the speeches that were being made in this House. I thank Senator McDowell for introducing the Seanad Bill 2016, which proposes reforms that would not be before time. I am committed to making the Seanad a legislative body that is designed for the Ireland of the 21st century. I commend the Taoiseach on his willingness to extend voting rights to Irish citizens living abroad. If 25 of the 28 other EU member states can facilitate this – indeed, it is provide for in 125 countries throughout the world – so can we. I suggest we should start with the 2018 presidential election. If we allow people in both the North and the South to vote in that election, it might be the catalyst for them to vote for a united Ireland. Ireland will only benefit from engaging her dynamic emigrants in the democratic process. The thousands of people who flew home to vote in last year’s referendum on marriage equality showed us that Irish citizens who live abroad truly want a say in the country they call home. I respectfully challenge this Chamber to ask itself what it can do for the diaspora, rather than what the diaspora can do for it. This challenge rings particularly true for vulnerable Irish emigrants, such as the elderly in Britain, who were affected by the recent RTE longwave controversy, and the undocumented in the US, who continue to need our support. I stand committed to providing a voice for such people in this Chamber and beyond.

I would like to touch on a point that was made last week by Senator Norris, whose career in the Seanad I have followed for many years. I have enjoyed his oratorical analysis and his great wit, but I was surprised last week to hear him castigate the Taoiseach on his 11 appointments. Of course I am one of the 11 appointees. Was it not the Taoiseach’s constitutional duty, as set out in Bunreacht na hÉireann, to nominate 11 Senators?