Chicago in the Seanad
By Olivia O’Mahony, Editorial Assistant
August / September 2016
Galway native Billy Lawless, Sr., who has lived in Chicago since 1998, has been appointed to the Irish Seanad (the Irish senate) by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. His nomination marks the first time an émigré has been named a senator.
Since his arrival in the United States, Lawless, a restaurateur whose establishments include cocktail bar Acanto and gastropub The Gage, has become a prominent advocate for comprehensive immigration reform for the undocumented Irish community and other groups. He is chairperson of the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform and vice president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
“The appointment of Billy Lawless to the Seanad gives the Irish diaspora a voice in the Irish government,” executive director of Chicago Irish Immigrant Support Michael Collins told Irish American News. “Likewise, this appointment is a clear indication that the Irish government is listening to the struggles that many Irish immigrants in the U.S. are facing.”
Lawless is a leading advocate for the end of deportation and introduced President Obama at Chicago’s Polish Copernicus Center in 2014, when the president announced two new executive orders: the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents and Lawful Permanent Residents.
At the Center, Obama said that Lawless and his son Billy, who assists him in running the restaurants, exemplified immigrant empowerment. “Together they have gone from employing ten workers to employing 250 workers,” he said, proceeding to echo Lawless’s own words: “This is what immigrants do.” ♦