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    Tracking the emigrant voting issue

    Friday, January 29th, 2010

    The issue of votes for Irish emigrants is rising in prominence, as evidenced by the increasing number of articles appearing on the topic. Here’s what’s been said in recent weeks:

    2010: March

    February

    January

    Articles and letters to editor

    Dail mentions:

    Political groups

    2009

    European-based web articles

    The articles above seem to imply that Irish-born voters who live and work in Europe can retain their right to vote by returning to Ireland to do so. Of course,  those who are not ordinarily resident in Ireland are ineligible to vote in Ireland, unless they are in the military or the diplomatic corps.

    Petition campaign launched for emigrant voting rights

    Thursday, January 28th, 2010

    A new political party calling itself “Amhran Nua” has launched an online petition to grant voting rights to emigrants. I don’t know much about this group, but its vision statement calls for a “country based on transparency and accountability, equality, growth and prosperity, peace and freedom, for our future and the future that we hand to our children.”

    Interestingly, it’s also pledging to work with the diaspora specifically to prevent further emigration:

    All too often, our best and brightest have left our shores for far off lands, separated from their families and homes. Our aim is to work with those who have left and those who are here to prevent more of this sorrowful loss, as president John F Kennedy said to the Dáíl in 1963, “If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather might never have left New Ross, and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you.”

    The notion that Ireland’s diaspora may have a role to play in Ireland’s future is evidently becoming a more commonly expressed thought in various sectors of Irish society.

    So it’s only natural, I guess, that this idea is leading to an increasing number of calls for votes for the Irish abroad. This petition is the latest in a small flowering of efforts aimed at opening up the Irish political system to voices from abroad.

    The petition calls for:

    We propose to implement full emigrant voting rights for Irish emigrants, for anyone holding an Irish passport and who was born in Ireland, and spent at least sixteen years ordinarily resident in the country. This could be done in a very straightforward manner, in a similar fashion to online banking done by Irish banks.

    Upon confirmation of identification and issuance of codes, emigrants could then vote via the internet in national elections and referendums, registered in their last Irish constituency, (if its good enough to secure something like bank account numbers and transactions, it should do quite well for voting).

    Is Ireland ready for this campaign? It will be interesting to see what kind of support they will get for this petition – but already it’s heartening to see that the level of debate on the issue is being raised. I’ve read many of the Dail debates of the past on this issue, and they were marked by a distinct lack of information about how common emigrant voting really is. This group has seized on the fact that emigrant voting is the norm in the developed world, that there are 115 countries in the world that have already figured it out, and that there are creative ways of ensuring that the emigrant vote is enacted fairly (as outlined in my factsheet on emigrant voting rights).

    I have written a lot about emigrant voting rights around the world, and one of my goals has always been to ensure that if there was going to be a debate on this issue in the future, it should be done on a factual basis, unlike how it has sometimes been conducted in the past. I must say I feel some level of satisfaction that we are getting closer to achieving this.

    See Amhran Nua’s website for more information and the petition.

    Minister Martin: Recommendations for emigrant votes for presidential elections mandated

    Thursday, January 28th, 2010
    Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
    Question 676: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will support the campaign on votes for Irish emigrants in view of the fact that 115 countries already support this view; and if he will use this initiative to support the economy here. [1614/10]
    Micheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
    My colleague, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government has primary responsibility for the various legislative codes dealing with the registration of electors and the conduct of elections and referendums. Policy regarding votes for non residents is dealt with by the Franchise section of that Department.
    The question of voting rights for Irish citizens living abroad was most recently considered in 2002, by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution . In relation to emigrant participation in political life, the Committee concluded that the right to vote in Oireachtas elections should remain confined to citizens ordinarily resident in the State.
    However the renewed Programme for Government, agreed in October 2009, mandates that recommendations should be made on the feasibility of extending the franchise for Presidential Elections to the Irish abroad. It will be the responsibility of the Department of Environment to progress this issue.
    The Government attaches a high priority to the interests of Irish emigrants. Under my Department’s Emigrant Support Programme, over €60M has been allocated to Irish welfare, culture and heritage organisations abroad over the past five years. A further €12.M has been allocated to the Programme for 2010, which will allow us to continue to maintain and strengthen links with Irish communities abroad.

    The issue of votes for emigrants arose in the Dail in a written question asked by Independent TD Finian McGrath earlier this month. Here is the exchange with Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin.

    Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)

    Question 676: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will support the campaign on votes for Irish emigrants in view of the fact that 115 countries already support this view; and if he will use this initiative to support the economy here. [1614/10]

    Micheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)

    My colleague, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government has primary responsibility for the various legislative codes dealing with the registration of electors and the conduct of elections and referendums. Policy regarding votes for non residents is dealt with by the Franchise section of that Department.

    The question of voting rights for Irish citizens living abroad was most recently considered in 2002, by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. In relation to emigrant participation in political life, the Committee concluded that the right to vote in Oireachtas elections should remain confined to citizens ordinarily resident in the State.

    However the renewed Programme for Government, agreed in October 2009, mandates that recommendations should be made on the feasibility of extending the franchise for Presidential Elections to the Irish abroad. It will be the responsibility of the Department of Environment to progress this issue.

    The Government attaches a high priority to the interests of Irish emigrants. Under my Department’s Emigrant Support Programme, over €60M has been allocated to Irish welfare, culture and heritage organisations abroad over the past five years. A further €12.M has been allocated to the Programme for 2010, which will allow us to continue to maintain and strengthen links with Irish communities abroad.

    Source:

    KildareStreet.com: Election Management System: 19 Jan 2010

    India to allow expat vote as Irish interest grows

    Friday, January 8th, 2010

    India is working to join the 115 countries around the world that allow their expats to vote.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday told the 1,500 delegates attending the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas gathering of the Indian diaspora that he hopes that the government will be able to facilitate non-resident Indians (NRIs) voting in the next general election.

    “I recognise the legitimate desire of Indians living abroad to exercise their franchise and to have a say in who governs India,” he said.

    “We are working on this issue and I sincerely hope that they will get a chance to vote by the time of the next regular general elections. In fact, I would go a step further and ask why more overseas Indians should not return home to join politics and public life as they are increasingly doing in business and academia.”

    The Indian move is part of a growing international trend to allow expats a voice in their home political systems. India’s engagement with its diaspora has frequently been cited by Irish policy-makers as an example of good practice, so it will be interesting to see what impact the granting of voting rights to NRIs will have on the debate here.

    Although perhaps “debate” is too strong a word. As Mary Hickman stated at the recent Irish Diaspora Seminar hosted by UCD in London, the issue of emigrant voting rights is taboo in Ireland. As the Irish Post reports this week, however, it is attracting rising interest among emigrants. With the recent upsurge in emigration and increased public discourse on the issue of political reform, it seems likely that the issue of Irish emigrant voting rights will take on greater importance in the future.

    And although nearly every country in Europe and most in the developed world already allow emigrant voting rights, India’s leadership in the arena of diaspora engagement will make its granting of expat voting rights difficult to ignore.

    Related pages:

    “Irish in Britain” event debates diaspora role

    Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

    I did up this report for the Irish Emigrant newsletter at Emigrant.ie

    UCD’s John Hume Institute brought its third annual Irish Diaspora Forum to London this week, bringing together politicians, historians, writers, business executives and others from the Irish community.  UCD president Hugh Brady joked that the “Irish in Britain” event allowed London to become “Connemara East” for the day. He called the forum series “a rolling conversation exploring the nature of the relationship between Ireland and Irish people and people who identify with Ireland.” The first two  forums, which were co-organised by Irish America magazine and The Ireland Funds along with UCD, were held in 2007 in New York and in 2008 in Dublin.

    The speakers at this year’s event, which drew about 100 people, included academics Mary Daly, Diarmaid Ferriter, Declan Kiberd, Mary Hickman and Cormac O’Grada; writer Frank McGuinness; Olympian John Treacy; legendary sports broadcaster Micheal O Muircheartaigh;  former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald, and many more. The panel sessions explored three themes: the Irish Diaspora as agents of political change, Diaspora as creative impulse, and cultural branding in the Diaspora. The final session asked the question “What does the future hold for Ireland and its Diaspora?” It was a day of lively debate, with contrasting views of the Diaspora and the future role of emigrants emerging.

    One of the highlights was the awarding of the UCD John Hume Medal to former president Mary Robinson. While the award recognised the work Ms Robinson had done on raising the profile of the Irish abroad during her presidency in the 1990s, she made it clear that there were many in Ireland who had not appreciated the importance of the diaspora at the time. She described the response in the Oireachtas as she gave her ground-breaking speech, “Cherishing the Diaspora”: “it was going down like a lead balloon… there was no doubt in my mind that members of the Oireachtas did not want to hear [about the diaspora]“. She said she left the speech, deeply depressed, but then “messages started to come in from all over the world,” and Ms Robinson realised her speech had meant a great deal to the Irish abroad. Ted Kennedy even entered the speech into the US Congressional record. The contrast between the response of the Irish in Ireland and the global Irish response “reinforced my sense that we underestimated our diaspora”, she said.

    Much has changed since then, and the Irish Diaspora, of course, is enjoying a high profile in Ireland these days; the recent Farmleigh Conference in particular has raised questions about what role the Irish Diaspora might play in Ireland’s future and its economic development. But the crisis that served as the impetus for this new outreach to the Diaspora has also sparked a renewed uptick in emigration by the young unemployed. It was this dual reality that was at the heart of one of the differences that emerged in the day: whether the dominant image of the Irish worldwide was more accurately portrayed as that of a global professional, entrepreneurial class or that of a sometimes vulnerable, potentially marginalized, migratory workforce at the mercy of the global economy.

    Most of the attendees and speakers were at the professional end of the spectrum: this was an event that was pitched at UCD alumni living in London, and with a 55-euro fee and a setting in the Royal Society, the event would probably have seemed inaccessible to less affluent members of the Irish community.

    It was a consideration of the most vulnerable Irish emigrants, however, that provoked the most passionate contribution of the day, from writer Frank McGuinness. He discussed Children of the Dead End, the classic emigration novel written by Patrick MacGill, describing MacGill as “one man who spoke out to give voice to the voiceless”. McGuinness outlined MacGill’s depiction of the Irish dispossessed, who had been failed by their families and their society: “their bodies are their own only insofar as they can be rented out for other’s benefits”, and their “contact with home would eventually be reduced to letters that said ‘Send money home’.”

    McGuinness said, “May we be forgiven for what we did – and continue to do – to our poorest”. Adding that the vast majority of the new class of emigrants are construction workers who left school young, he suggested that he would “give everyone emigrating a copy of this book”. It would serve as a warning: “You’re up for a fight – and be prepared for it.”

    One contributor, former Esat Digiphone CEO Barry Moloney, bridged the gap between the two visions of the diaspora when he envisioned that global Irish professionals had a role to play in preventing emigration in the future. Describing the diaspora as “the single most important thing that can help” in developing Ireland’s economy in the future, he said, “I take that responsibility very seriously”. He said that in forums such as this and the Farmleigh conference, economic strategising by the diaspora was “the number one agenda item if we’re going to help so our kids don’t have to go abroad again.”

    The issue of emigrant voting arose during several of the speaker’s contributions. Diarmaid Ferriter was the first to bring it up, noting how Polish politicians had courted the vote of the Poles living in Ireland. He asked, “Would the Irish political situation have been different had the Irish of the 1950s had the vote?”

    Mary Hickman noted that the issue of emigrant voting rights was “more taboo” than in the past, even though 115 nations allow emigrant voting rights. She also suggested that the diaspora, Northern Ireland and new immigrants presented a three-prong challenge to Ireland, noting that despite the reform of Article Two of the Constitution, “the national territory and its governance remain ring-fenced”.

    This issue provoked the most heated discussion of the day, as former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald suggested that the American Revolution’s famous rallying cry for democracy, “No taxation without representation” needed to be inverted in an Irish context into “No representation without taxation”. He also expressed fears about the candidates that the Irish in America, in particular, might vote for.

    Dermot Gallagher, the former secretary-general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, also voiced opposition to the idea of emigrant voting, citing a potential example of a woman in California with one Irish grandparent being eligible to vote (although Mary Hickman had explicitly stated that she was not proposing voting rights for second or later generations). Mr Gallagher did welcome an exploration of the idea of political participation by emigrants through representation in the Seanad, however.  Judging from the emotional response to the debate, the role of emigrants in Ireland’s political structures in the future is an issue likely to arise in the future.

    Mary Robinson, in one of the closing comments of the conference noted that the Irish diaspora doesn’t just want a connection with Ireland; there is “a notion of being able to reimagine Ireland because we’re making more of a link?. She pointed to the diaspora’s ability to bring greater understanding of our history, to act as a bridge on climate change, and to unite to create huge numbers of jobs as potential benefits of making and remaking connections within the diaspora.

    Related web pages:

    Political participation by the Irish abroad – Irish Times

    Saturday, November 14th, 2009

    Paul Gillespie has an article in today’s Irish Times calling for the formation of an organisation that would act as a representative body for the 70 million Irish abroad.

    He mentions this website as a source for more information on global emigrant voting rights — here are some links to more of what I’ve written on the topic:

    I’ve also got a factsheet on diaspora strategy, although it’s in need of some updating.

    I have long had an interest in the diaspora strategies of other European nations, and I’m the Irish representative and vice-president of Europeans Throughout the World, a body comprised of the expat representative associations of the nations of Europe.

    Here are some posts highlighting their activities:

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