Ciaran Staunton, a leading force for change in immigration legislation and co-founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, was officially nominated yesterday to run for the Seanad (Irish equivalent of the senate).

Staunton, who was nominated by Sinn Fein and its leader Gerry Adams, will be running as a “voice for the diaspora.”

“Ciaran Staunton is a Mayo man who has lived in the United States since the 1980’s,” said Adams as the announcement was made. “He has been a long-time leader on immigration issues. In 1990, he was involved in the campaign which saw the introduction of the Morrison Visa program that opened the door to thousands of Irish citizens being able to legally enter the USA.”

“Sinn Féin believes that much more must be done to develop and strengthen our relationship with the diaspora. This objective can be enhanced with a strong dedicated voice in the Oireachtas; someone who will fight for the rights of the undocumented in the USA; for votes for Irish citizens living abroad; for improved connectedness between the island of Ireland and our diaspora; and for a united Ireland. I believe that Ciaran Staunton has the experience and commitment to be that voice.”

In the coming days, Staunton, who is running as an independent candidate, will be asking for the endorsement of acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the leaders of Ireland’s other political parties.

In a phone interview with IrishCentral, Staunton said that, given the vast size and scope of the recent Irish diaspora – larger than any local constituency in Ireland – a government figure to represent their interests is essential.

“When I looked into the issue of the immigrant vote, I looked at how other countries deal, embrace and work with their diasporas, and I found that many countries – even those with diasporas smaller than Ireland – had ministers for the diaspora, votes for the diaspora. I really believe not enough has been done,” he said

He noted that, thus far, the government’s emphasis on the diaspora has centered around getting the many thousands of people who left in recent years to find work in the UK, Australia, Canada, the US and other major Irish immigration hubs to return to Ireland, neglecting to realize that for a great many of them that simply isn’t realistic.

“I believe every government has a constitutional responsibility to make sure their citizens are okay, no matter where they are,” Staunton said.

“Who is looking after all the Irish who left since the demise of the Celtic Tiger? Who is in touch with them? How can we help them get votes? How can we help them get legal? How can we help them if they do want to return?

“We need leaders who are going to stand up and say that hand-wringing isn’t good enough; 'Out of sight out of mind' is not an acceptable policy. This is not a party issue; it’s simply a matter of working in their interest.”

Staunton also proposed a re-boot of the Gathering initiative, which aimed to bring the larger Irish diaspora back to Ireland to visit, this time directed towards the recipients and family members of the Donnelly and Morrison visas.

In a statement, Gerry Adams cited Staunton’s vast experience as a lobbyist at the White House, Senate and Congress on immigration reform, as well as the phenomenal work he has done with his wife, Orlaith and the Rory Staunton Foundation, which they started in memory of their son, Rory, who died tragically in 2012 at 12 years of age from an undiagnosed sepsis infection.

Since then, thanks to the Rory Staunton Foundation, New York State has adopted Rory’s Regulations, which require all hospitals to adopt best practices for the early identification and treatment of sepsis, and, just this month, the US House and Senate Appropriations Committees supported the allocation of funding in the US budget for a sepsis awareness program.