Sunday 23 October 2016

New Senator: Giving Enda's daughter a J1 job in Chicago 'not cronyism'

Catherine Devine

Published 30/05/2016 | 13:21

Chicago men: President Obama and Billy Lawless
Chicago men: President Obama and Billy Lawless

ONE of the country’s newest senators has dismissed accusations of cronyism made against him for giving the Taoiseach’s daughter a J1 job as “absolutely ridiculous”.

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Billy Lawless was one of the Seanad nominees appointed by Enda Kenny last week.

The Galway-born restaurateur, who has been conferred with the Freedom of the City, is based in Chicago, and has denied that his new role was linked to the fact that he gave the Taoiseach's daughter a job in the past.

“There’s nothing unusual about being asked. I get 50 to 60 calls every year from Ireland about J1 students coming over. It’s nothing new,” Lawless told Newstalk this morning.

“[The Taoiseach's daughter] was probably lucky because she was one of the first ones to apply for the few positions. Why wouldn’t you look after a friend’s daughter if they’re coming out?”

Mr Lawless was one of the 11 new Senators appointed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the 25th Seanad. The US-based advocate for Irish immigrants in the US will be the first person based overseas to sit in the Seanad.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: :Arthur Carron
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: :Arthur Carron

The Seanad meets two days most weeks, but Lawless is unsure how his travel costs will be covered.

“I don’t have the logistics but I expect to get them in the next few days,” he said.

Mr Lawless said his main focus as a Senator will be to work with the undocumented Irish and to secure voting rights for the Irish abroad, hopefully in time for the 2019 presidential election.

The new Senator emigrated to Chicago in 1998 and has been a voice for Irish emigrants. “I always had a yen to open a business in the USA and then when my daughter got a rowing scholarship to Boston University, we decided to go,” he said.

In the 1980s he was Chair of Fine Gael in the Galway West constituency and stood unsuccessfully for Galway City Council in 1991.

Lawless has four restaurants in Chicago with two more opening soon.

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