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Finnegan reflects on a year away from EIIC

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

It’s been almost a year since Paul Finnegan stepped down from his position as executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, a job with one of the highest profiles in the New York Irish-American community. Since then, Finnegan, 33, an Arizona native reared in Galway, has been working with Comhill Systems, a Manhattan-based systems analysis and software development company.

"I guess you could call me a systems analyst, it’s very hard to put labels on people in this business," he said.

Finnegan had been involved with the EIIC on a voluntary basis since its beginning in the 1987-88 period. In 1994, he was appointed executive director in succession to Sean Benson. Finnegan was succeeded by Carolyn Ryan, the current executive director.

"I had intended to move on when I was three years with the Emerald Isle center," he said. "I waited for a company that I thought would be a good step for me and, so far, it’s worked out well."

Although he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from University College in Galway, he said he always felt he would eventually veer toward the computer business. While working with the EIIC, he obtained a master’s degree in computer information systems.

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Since he began working with Comhill Systems, Finnegan says he has gotten to know a whole new industry. "I am getting the kind of experience I want and I hope to build on this in the future," he said. "It’s a very exciting time in this industry and it is evolving very rapidly."

Comhill Systems produces software for hospitals to help them with tasks such as billing, patient registration and medical records storage.

As for the difference between his current job and that as head of the EIIC, Finnegan immediately answers that he is "not on the phone as much, for one thing."

He adds that, now, he doesn’t "have to think of everything from A to Z all the time." In the EIIC, he had to deal with an array of matters, from mundane problems like difficulties with the heating system to meeting auditors from the city of New York. "I consider myself fortunate to have been able to hire great people to help me through a lot of that bizarre stuff every day. I have to stay as alert now, but I work on a fairly well defined area and I stick with that.

"Working with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center was a unique experience that I may not come across again," he said.

Finnegan said he wanted to compliment the center on its work since he left on getting the Walsh Visas passed.

"In a very dark era for immigration, hats off to the Emerald Isle Immigration Center," he said. "They were able to get the Walsh visas. To carve anything out of Congress last year was a tremendous achievement."

Since Finnegan left the EIIC, he and his wife, Rosa Diaz-Finnegan, have also endured heartache. A son, John Patrick, was born March 17, last but died some days later as a result of a heart condition. "It was a tragedy, but then when is a tragedy expected," Finnegan said, adding that he has become a much more spiritual person because of the painful experience. "Myself and my wife endured it together and it makes me realize what a fantastic woman I married," he said.

"I think he has brought the whole family closer together and I feel he is with us all the time," Finnegan said of John Patrick.

"That’s the reason I didn’t stay in contact with people the way I would have, because I hadn’t the heart to," he added. "But a lot of that fog, a lot of that gloom has lifted and we are looking to the future."

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