A bit more normal, Illinois lawmakers welcome in-person guests for first time in two years


Kevin Byrne, consul general of Ireland to the Midwestern United States, talks Thursday with state Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, on the House floor. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]

Politicians in the state Capitol hosted two visiting leaders this week, a sign of normalcy after guests were blocked from both chambers for two years because of the pandemic. 

On Wednesday, the Illinois House welcomed Carl Heastie, the speaker of the New York State Assembly. On Thursday it welcomed Kevin Byrne, the consul general of Ireland to the Midwestern United States.

Since taking his current position in September 2020, Byrne has been responsible for managing international relations between Ireland and the Midwest through his role running the Irish consulate in Chicago, a city with a sizable and storied Irish-American population.

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"He came to see us last year," said Illinois House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Hillside, referring to a virtual appearance from Byrne. "I promised to invite him back when we opened our chamber and he would be one of the first guests to speak to us." 

Byrne described the unique relationship between Ireland and the U.S. as an "anam cara," an Irish phrase meaning "soul friendship."

"The Irish are an immigrant people," said Byrne. "So many Irish stories end with a departure, but every Irish-American story starts with an arrival." 

Byrne also identified several key ways the "flow of ideas" between the U.S. and Ireland has benefited the populations, including advancements in civil rights, women’s rights and improvements to the lives of members of the LGBTQ community. 

"These changes have only made our society stronger," he said. 

Byrne also discussed the situation in Ukraine, saying that Ireland supports Ukraine’s entry into the European Union and will accept 100,000 Ukrainians "in the coming weeks." That is roughly equivalent to 2% of the total Irish population, according to Byrne. 

"Ireland stands with the U.S. in condemning Russia’s unjustified, unprovoked and immoral war," said Byrne. 

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This aligns with recent House lawmakers’ push to support Ukraine in the conflict. 

"It is now time for us to do what we can here in Illinois," said Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago, who introduced a bill to institute several Ukraine-related provisions. 

LaPointe’s proposal would divest Illinois’ investments in Russian stocks, directs the state’s Department of Human Services to create a Ukraine refugee resettlement program and creates a task force aimed at identifying Russian-linked investments and money laundering fronts in the state. 

Speaker of the New York State Assembly Carl Heastie visits the Illinois House on Wednesday. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]

The House also welcomed a top state lawmaker from outside Illinois: Speaker of the New York State Assembly Carl Heastie.

Heastie addressed the assembly on Wednesday, when he talked about the pandemic and the relationship between Illinois and New York. 

"I really wanted to come here and to thank all of you for helping get this state and this country back on track to live in the new normal," said Heastie. 

He added that he feels a "friendship and a kinship" to Welch. 

Like Welch, Heastie is the first African-American to lead his chamber. Both men took over the job from someone tied to a federal corruption probe. Heastie’s predecessor, Sheldon Silver, was indicted by the federal government on 22 counts of extortion, wire fraud and mail fraud. Silver died in January while still serving his sentence, according to reporting from The Associated Press

Welch said the visits by the dignitaries is another symbol of normalcy for the state. 

“This is really a testament to the people of this state and the work they’re continuing to do to get us on the other side of this pandemic,” said Welch in a statement. “Our hospitalizations are on a continuous decline and more Illinoisans have gotten a COVID-19 shot than anywhere in the Midwest.”

Contact Andrew Adams: aadams1@gannett.com; (312)-291-1417; twitter.com/drewjayadams.

via The State Journal-Register

March 17, 2022 at 11:16PM

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