The former director of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants (IECE), Fr Paul Byrne, was awarded on Saturday for his work with Irish immigrants overseas. The Irish Labour party leader, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, presented the James Larkin Justice Award to Fr Byrne at the Party conference. The award is presented each year to someone who has made an outstanding contribution in the area of justice or human rights. Fr Byrne is being honoured for his work highlighting the plight of the Irish emigrants who ended up in Britain and elsewhere, unemployed and living in poor housing or on the streets. Fr Byrne has also campaigned for a coherent government policy on the issue. Fr Paul Byrne took up the directorship of the IECE in 1994. He also worked closely with the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO), helping to address the needs of Irish prisoners abroad. He served as a member of the Government Task Force on Emigration. In October 2003 Fr Byrne retired as director of the IECE, but continues in his efforts to campaign for the policies recommended in the Task Force Report to be implemented by the government. He has up to recently chaired the Emigrant Advice Network as well as acting as a trustee for the London Irish Centre. He chairs the St Stephen's Green Trust and is a member of the Irish Funders Forum. Commenting on the award to Fr Byrne, the Director of IECE Fr Alan Hilliard said: "We are all very proud of Paul. Over the years he has worked hard for emigrants in the UK. He put structures in place to ensure that Irish people accessed housing and to assist those who had fallen on hard times. Many in the UK and across the world feel he represents them well. He is an energetic, enthusiastic campaigner for the rights of the marginalized. I know he is saddened that the recommendations of the Task Force have not been met with serious consideration. His voice needs to be heard. Paul speaks of behalf of those who remain an 'unconsidered' part of our nation. It is so easy to forget those who gave so much to us in the past." The IECE was established in 1957 by the Irish Bishop's to coordinate a pastoral response to the need of Irish people abroad. The main focus of attention at that time was large number of Irish people who travelling to the UK ill prepared and with little support. In the 1980s the Commission focused on the large number of Irish who were travelling to the US and successfully set up a number of centres there. Recently the Commission set up a centre in Sydney to minister to the needs of Irish living 'Down Under'. Source: Irish Bishops Media Office
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