Billy Lawless: Giving Kenny’s daughter J1 job ‘not cronyism’

First overseas appointment to Seanad says accusations ‘absolutely ridiculous’

Billy Lawless: ‘The claim of cronyism was absolutely ridiculous.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Billy Lawless: ‘The claim of cronyism was absolutely ridiculous.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Ireland’s first overseas senator Billy Lawless says accusations of cronyism made against him for giving the Taoiseach’s daughter a J1 job are “absolutely ridiculous”.

Galway man Mr Lawless was among the 11 appointments made by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the 25th Seanad. The Chicago-based advocate for Irish immigrants in the US will be the first person based overseas to sit in the Seanad.

“The claim of cronyism was absolutely ridiculous. I get 50 to 60 calls every year from Ireland about J1 students coming over. It’s nothing new,” said Mr Lawless, speaking on Newstalk on Monday.

He said Aoibhinn Kenny was lucky and she was one of first ones to apply. He said he knew her and “why wouldn’t you look after a friend’s daughter?”

Mr Lawless, who is co-chair of the National Democratic Immigrant Council with Bruce Morrison said the first he heard of his Seanad appointment was a telephone call last Friday afternoon.

“The Taoiseach asked me if I would serve, I said I would be delighted. I was surprised given how many TDs lost their seats,” he said.

The new Senator emigrated to Chicago in 1998. “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 said.

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

The businessman now has four restaurants with plans to open a further two in next few weeks.

“My main focus here has been the undocumented Irish. Emigration reform is required.”

He said he did not have details of the logistics of how he will attend sittings or expenses. One of the key issues he is interested in is voting rights for Irish citizens abroad, hopefully in time for the 2019 presidential election.