Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Manus Cooney


10:30 am

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

At this stage, I will abair cúpla focal for Mr. Manus Cooney. Ar son gach Comhalta de Sheanad Éireann, ba mhaith céad míle fáilte a chur roimh an tUasal Manus Cooney go dtí an Seomra seo. On behalf of Seanad Éireann, I welcome Mr. Manus Cooney to the House. It will our privilege to hear Mr. Cooney's address to the House today on the diaspora, the undocumented Irish and immigration reform.

When the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, chose his 11 nominees earlier this year to take seats in the Twenty-fifth Seanad, he looked beyond the geographical confines of the island of Ireland to the many Irish people who have followed the well-worn path of immigration. He found in Senator Billy Lawless a man who, in addition to succeeding in business since he emigrated to Chicago almost twenty years ago, has been a tireless advocate of the interests and rights of the Irish in the United States. Senator Lawless has not been slow to use his position as a parliamentarian to raise awareness of the needs of our diaspora and it is through his efforts that Mr. Manus Cooney graces us with his presence today.

In his professional life, Mr. Cooney is a principal at the bipartisan public policy firm, American Continental Group, where his practice specialises in intellectual property, competition and administration of justice policy matters. He is an expert in strategic public policy planning, execution and representation before federal agencies and congress. Mr. Cooney served on Capitol Hill for several years where he was chief counsel and staff director of the senate's judiciary committee. Among the many other leadership roles that he has held, Mr. Cooney serves on the board of directors of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. Mr. Cooney's résumé offers subject matter for many an interesting conversation, but our focus today is on his work on the undocumented Irish and immigration reform.

Ireland's diaspora policy recognises that Ireland has a unique and important relationship with its diaspora that must be nurtured and developed. The main goal of the policy is building long-term, sustainable relationships with diaspora communities. On the specific and pressing issue of immigration reform in the United States, a key objective of Government policy is achieving relief for undocumented Irish migrants and agreement on a facility for future legal migration between Ireland and the US. In advancing these objectives, our friends in the US play an essential part, without whom our efforts would be much less effective. Not least among those friends of Ireland, Mr. Cooney has made an important contribution in helping to progress these aims. In particular, his work in facilitating contacts and relationships between advocates for Irish immigrants and legislators on Capitol Hill has been invaluable.

Immigration is a phenomenon that had a strong impact on the families of many in this House. Some of my own immediate family sought new opportunities in the US many years ago. There has been a long history of immigration from my home place of the Sheep's Head peninsula in west Cork. Many of those who left prospered in their new environment but others have been less fortunate. With regard to the Sheep's Head peninsula, it is interesting - and probably typical of any other part of Ireland - that many people from my home parish of Muintir Bháire, known as Sheep's Head, went to Wyoming to ranch sheep and cattle on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. John Mahony of Killeen was followed by others who became pioneers. To this day, their mark can be seen there. There are Tobins, Sullivans, Ellis's and Swamptons. Families that originated in the Sheep's Head peninsula have prospered, some in politics, such as John Mahony who was a state senator and Pat O'Sullivan from Eskraha Kilcrohane who was a senator on Capitol Hill. Some of the late generation moved to Texas and, if my information is correct, there was a man by the name of Tobin who came from my home parish and was at one stage governor of Wyoming. Those are little anecdotes that I think are worth mentioning.

I hope that our discussion today with Mr. Cooney will contribute to a greater understanding of the issues that need to be tackled and of the way in which we can all work towards solutions to the predicament in which some of our emigrants have found themselves. Before I call on Mr. Cooney to address the Seanad, I know that Senators have been following the contest for the presidency of the United States with considerable interest. However, we have agreed both in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and in this House that that topic is not for discussion today. It would be better addressed off the floor of this Chamber. The specific purpose of Mr. Cooney's visit is to address the issue of the Irish diaspora and his tremendous work in that regard. Céad míle fáilte dó. I invite him to address Seanad Éireann.


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