Latest News« Previous Entries
Ireland’s Constitutional Convention will be looking at the issue of votes for emigrants this weekend, as it examines the issue of electoral reform. Mary Hickman of the VICA campaign will speak. The public has been invited to make submissions on the Constitution.ie website. There are many people who have written in on the issue of votes for emigrants, and VICA and the Federation of Irish Societies in London have made particularly good ones.
If you haven’t submitted yet, it’s not too late. It doesn’t need to be terribly long – put in a few words and help shape Ireland’s future, and your own.
Here is what I submitted today:
(a) Votes for overseas citizens should be considered as an important part of electoral reform, and especially for Dáil elections. Overseas citizens are affected by decisions made in Ireland, and they need genuine political representation that will enable their interests and concerns to be voiced and addressed.
2. Issues affecting emigrants
(a) Opponents sometimes argue that allowing overseas citizens the right to vote would be giving them power to make laws they won’t be affected by. This argument ignores the fact that emigrants are, in fact, affected by many laws and policies enacted in Ireland, in which they have no say.
(b) Overseas citizens who are hoping to return can be particularly affected by decisions made by legislators regarding any of the following:
- Economic policies affecting their ability to return
- Social welfare policies (like the habitual residence condition that has been reported in the Irish Times to have prevented at least 3,000 returning emigrants from accessing social welfare after they returned home to find work or care for elderly relatives, sometimes resulting in destitution.)
- Policies around education and the cost of university education for the children of returning emigrants.
- Spousal immigration laws, which could determine whether an emigrant has the right to return home to live with his or her partner
(c) Decisions that affect citizens while they live abroad, whether or not they plan to return, include those made in areas such as:
- Taxation: Many emigrants are required to pay tax on property they own at home. “Taxation without representation” is a reality.
- Pensions: Many emigrants have worked in Ireland and are entitled to a contributory pension; they will thus be affected by any changes in pension levels.
- Levels of consular staffing and protection, which can affect the safety of citizens during times of crisis
- Levels of emigrant support, which provides for on-the-ground assistance in local Irish communities abroad, often to the most vulnerable of emigrants.
- Broadcasting policy, which regulates the ability of Irish communities in the UK and elsewhere to access Irish radio and television broadcasts as well as access to RTE onine services
- Diaspora engagement policies, including the development of cultural, heritage and business initiatives; network development, return policies, foreign direct investment initiatives, and more.
- Citizenship, which can affect the citizenship rights of spouses and descendents.
(d) Many of these policies have a strong impact on the lives of the Irish abroad, yet the effects of these policies on emigrants and overseas citizens are barely on the radar for Irish policy-makers and voters.
(e) There is thus a real need for meaningful representation of the perspectives of overseas citizens in the government.
3. The problem of balance
(a) Some object to the notion of votes for emigrants based on the idea that the Irish abroad could wield disproportionate power in their home constituencies. This is a legitimate concern, but the solution is not to ban all emigrant and overseas citizens’ voices, but rather to come up with a compromise solution that allows for a more balanced representation of all citizens’ perspectives.
(b) Regional constituencies for emigrants, such as exist in France and Italy, should be explored as the simplest solution for allowing the clearest and most balanced representation of emigrant interests.
4. The problem of taxation
(a) Some people question whether it is fair for overseas citizens to vote when they do not pay taxes. It is often forgotten that the young emigrants of this generation, in particular, who have left Ireland in order to be able to pay their mortgages, will have to pay taxes on those properties. Similarly, older emigrants, many of whom are on limited incomes, may have inherited family properties which are also taxed.
(b) A problem arises when people treat the saying “no representation without taxation” as if it is a well-established democratic principle. It is not. The US is the only developed country in the world that taxes its non-resident citizens on income earned abroad – and yet the US is only one of well over 100 countries around the world that allows its expats to vote. Even in the US, there’s no actual connection between paying taxes and being allowed to vote: the requirement is that non-residents file taxes, but don’t owe them on income under about $90,000. So relatively few US expats actually owe any taxes to the US – yet all US citizens are entitled to vote.
(c) The confusion arises from the fact that the “No representation without taxation” sounds like “No taxation without representation” – a genuine rallying cry for democracy arising out of the American Revolution. “No representation without taxation” is the opposite – it’s a call to restrict democracy; a demand for a return to pre-Enlightenment era when only men of property could vote. We don’t demand the exchange of taxation for voting rights in any other context: the penniless are as entitled to vote as the wealthy, and we don’t exclude net beneficiaries of taxation from voting.
5. The distinction between “citizens” and “the diaspora”
(a) In the public debate over emigrant voting, there seems to be some confusion about whether the vote should be for emigrants, the 3 million citizens living around the world, or for the wider diaspora estimated at 70 million. Yet few, if any, advocates of emigrant voting rights are calling for the diaspora to be allowed to vote.
(b) The Constitution currently, it could be argued, supports votes for all citizens, but not to the wider diaspora. Article 2 makes a clear distinction between them:
It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.
(c) The Irish Nation, thus, is specifically meant to be comprised of everyone who has Irish citizenship. The Constitution states that there is a distinction between citizens, no matter where they live, (who are entitled to be part of the Irish Nation), and the wider diaspora (“the people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage”). The worldwide population of citizens have a claim on the Irish Nation, but the non-citizens of the diaspora have merely a ‘special affinity’ that is to be cherished but which offers no such claim.
(d) Article 1 sets out the rights of the Irish nation:
The Irish nation hereby affirms its inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of Government, to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.
(e) This begs the question: If the self-determination right of the nation is “inalienable, indefeasible and sovereign”, how is it just or appropriate that a significant part of the Irish nation is deprived of that right?
I’ve been quiet of late, not because of any lack of things to talk about in the diaspora realm, but because I’ve been busy with some other things, mostly having to do with my father – I minded him for about six months before he died this winter, and since then I’ve been dealing with all the things involved with tying up the affairs of a well-lived eighty-year life.
I think my dad deserves a mention on this site. The experiences of him and my mother, both emigrants from the 1950s-era outflow, were the inspiration for my initial interest in emigration. They always remained as proud of being Irish people as they were of being American citizens, switching their passports to blue and raising their children in suburban New York but always calling Ireland “home”. They – like so many others of their generation – maintained their loyalty to Ireland throughout their whole lives. If I’m honest, I’ve sometimes questioned whether this loyalty has always been fully deserved, and it’s probably this question more than any other that has inspired my work on this site. But that’s for another day.
I was really moved by what one of my friends wrote to me after my dad’s death: “Your Dad was part of the best generation to represent us in the States – they repaid their hosts by working hard, raising families and living by good values. You can be very proud of him.” And I am.
I’ll just repost his obituary here:
Columbus (Colm) Bowden died in New City, New York on Jan. 19, 2013, a week before his 81st birthday. Colm was born in Balleen, Freshford, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland on Jan. 27, 1932. He came to New York in 1958, after a few years working in England for the Ford auto company. He married Teresa Philbin from Castlebar, Co. Mayo, in 1964, moving to New City to raise their family in 1968. Colm spent most of his working life as a New York City bus driver. After retiring from MABSTOA in 1987, he worked for the Town of Clarkstown for ten years.
Colm was much loved by his daughters, grandchildren and many friends and family. He will be remembered for his kind spirit, loyal friendship, generous heart and gregarious laughter. An enthusiastic card-player, he enjoyed frequent games of 25 at the Irish Center in Blauvelt, where he also spent numerous happy Sunday mornings cheering for the Kilkenny hurling team. He maintained strong ties to his native country, visiting relatives and old neighbors often; he phoned his sister Lena every week until the end of his life. Colm was very proud to have been named the Kilkennyman of the Year in 1985 by New York’s Kilkenny Association. An avid reader, he always kept up with the news from home, often with clippings sent by his late sister Kit, and the daily papers. A faithful Catholic, he was also a lifelong Pioneer after taking ‘the pledge’ at 18. After his retirement, he joined the Clarkstown Senior Citizens’ Club, where he made many new friends.
Colm loved travelling. Happiest behind the wheel, he drove to explore America and visit friends in such far away places as Montana, Florida and Canada’s Prince Edward Island. He celebrated his 70th birthday with a train trip across the country to San Francisco and his 75th birthday with a journey that fulfilled his lifelong dream of visiting New Zealand and Australia.
Colm is survived by two sisters in Ireland, Lena Downey and Lil Cahill; his daughters, Eileen Feeley of Alexandria, Virginia and Noreen Bowden of New City; and his two grandchildren, James Colm Feeley and Katherine Teresa Feeley. He will also be missed by his many nieces and nephews in Ireland and America. He was predeceased by his sisters, Margaret, May, and Kit (Sister Ethna), and his brother, John. His beloved wife, Teresa, died in 1986.
Back to normal programming soon.
For the last seven days, I’ve tweeted under the @Ireland account on Twitter. Run by WorldIrish.com, the account is curated by a different person every week. It’s a relatively new idea, modeled after the @Sweden account I was pleased to be the first person to tweet from the Americas.
The week was great fun, with chats on topics including the Irish in South America, the visit of the Canadian Immigration Minister, the Late Late Show, the Irish at war around the world, emigrant voting and more.
New curators are needed every week, so if you’d like to take the helm for a week, see how on WorldIrish.com.
It’s high time I got back to my blogging: I graduated with my Masters in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government a few months ago. It was a grueling but wonderful experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. One of the great things about it was the way the program enabled us all to pursue our various interests and passions, so I had the luxury of studying issues around democratic participation by emigrant citizens. I’ll pop up a few of the results of that work in the next few posts.
One of the extraordinary things about the Kennedy School, apart from the superb professors and my talented classmates, was the fact that, of course, the Kennedy school is named after that great icon of Irish-America, John F. Kennedy, and he is invoked everywhere. In an Irish context, the JFK thing sometimes seems slightly parochial (“There’s the descendent of the man from New Ross, walking the streets of Galway!”), but of course his vision had a global impact, and still has the power to inspire action around the world today.
As the child of Irish immigrants, to be able to study at such an institution meant a lot to me. My parents left school at the age of 13 and 14; My father didn’t love school, but my razor-sharp mother left school because she had leave home to work to support her family. She was so hungry for learning that she used to read my textbooks when I was a kid, and she often spoke how she hoped to go back to school eventually. She never got to do that; she didn’t live to see me graduate high school. While I was at Harvard, I often thought of my mother’s unfulfilled dream, and it added a bit of sadness to my pride that I had made it there. I reflected a lot how I had gotten there, and how my parents’ journeys from the Ireland of the 1950s and 1960s had paved the way. I am grateful to them.
Anyway, I’m back to the blogging and eager to get started again!
I’ve been on hiatus for the past couple of months, owing to a rather dramatic change in circumstances. I’ve moved to Boston for a year to study at Harvard, where I’m working on a mid-career Master’s in Public Administration at the Kennedy School of Government.
I’m sorry to be missing all the excitement of this year in Ireland, what with the presidential election and all, but I’ll be back before long. In the meantime, my academic programme is a really wonderful experience – I’m studying alongside 200 other students from all over the world (something like 70 countries – including students from India, China, Japan, Egypt, the UK, Ethiopia, Croatia, Norway, Canada, Ivory Coast, Israel, Palestine, Nigeria, and lots more). Among our ranks are former (and future) government ministers, social entrepreneurs, soldiers, diplomats, technology consultants, journalists, college professors and many more interesting people of all sorts.
I was surprised to find that I seem to be the only one of the 1,000 students in the entire Kennedy School who has arrived from Ireland – though I have found two other Irish graduate students here at Harvard, both in the Graduate School of Education, one a teacher freshly arrived from Meath, the other a long-time resident of San Francisco.
While I’m here I’m studying things like economics, leadership, negotiations, advocacy, and policy change. So far, it feels like a wonderful gift, and I feel really lucky to be part of this class.
I’m still following all the events in Ireland, though I’ve been too busy to post of late. As I settle in I’ll be able to post a bit, although I’ll likely be quieter than usual on here until I graduate in May.
Irish-American businessman Tom McEnery has made a number of suggestions about how better to engage the diaspora in assisting Ireland with its economic crisis. Mr McEnery, an author, businessman, and former mayor of San Jose, lectures at Santa Clara University and Stanford University. He wrote an article in the Irish Times advocating greater engagement with the Irish diaspora:
It is time to think and act anew. Irish officials must implement solutions quickly, before it’s too late, redouble efforts at creating wealth in emerging companies and harness the untapped resources of the Irish diaspora.
There is much talk of this vast diaspora, but its resources are not being utilised. Until the Irish leadership sees that taoiseachs delivering platitudes and bowls of shamrocks will not substitute for meaningful engagement, it never will be utilised.
His first two suggestions are focused on economic development:
Merge IDA, Enterprise Ireland and other agencies involved in economic development into one agency, name a leader, maybe an American chief executive like Craig Barrett, and support innovation, jobs and company formation. Then measure performance, not press releases;
Put whatever resources you can muster into worldwide venture capital funds that have a link beyond the monetary to Ireland, a real eco-system, and make the creation of companies, not reports, their core product;
The most interesting of the suggestions is the last:
Instead of abolishing the Seanad, select members who serve at no salary but chosen only from the Irish diaspora. From Silicon Valley select the likes of Craig Barrett, John Hartnett, founder of the ITLG and the Wilde Angel Fund, Conrad Burke of Innovalight and John O Ryan, the inventor behind the dynamic Rovi Corporate.
Add in Maria Shriver, Gabriel Byrne, Chuck Feeney, Niall O’Dowd and Declan Kelly too. And then from across the US, Australia, Canada and globally pick more such people and use them. Don’t lose them in a jumble of compliments and forums. As I once noted, I often found more wisdom in a conversation over a pint in McDaid’s or an hour at San Jose’s Irish Innovation Center than a day of speeches at Farmleigh. Implement, implement, implement as if your future depended on it – for it surely do.
I appreciate the spirit behind this suggestion: there are many in the diaspora who are willing and able to take a philanthropic approach to Ireland, and who would surely do us much good. I also appreciate the desire for greater engagement that is driving this idea, the generosity and good will among the diaspora that it highlights, and the innovative approach that is so sorely needed in rethinking the relationship between Ireland and the Irish abroad.
But I think it’s a highly problematic idea, for the following reasons:
- Appointing, rather than electing, more representatives to the Seanad would reinforce the undemocratic nature of that body.
- Asking people to serve in an unpaid capacity will ensure that only those of significant means will be able to do so. Not every talented person is wealthy enough to do substantial amounts of unpaid work.
- These kinds of appointments would reinforce one of the most fundamental distortions in Irish society: the distinction between the insiders and the outsiders. One of the keys to the way the potential for success is often unleashed in the Irish abroad is that when Irish people leave, they often find themselves less bound by the restrictions of class and connection. Recent efforts to implement top-down networks and give government greater access to the most successful of the Irish abroad are aimed at establishing a hierarchy among the Irish abroad that the establishment here understand and are more comfortable with. This is not a step forward.
All the same, we’re blessed here in Ireland, in having a large international base of people around the globe who are interested in assisting us. We haven’t got the relationship right yet, but the more ideas we can throw around the better. I believe that we should favour those ideas that move us toward greater equality and more democratic representation of all of our citizens.« Previous Entries