The constitutional convention in Dublin last weekend came out in favor of votes for emigrants and Irish citizens outside the jurisdiction in presidential elections.
Let’s be honest, though — this will give emigrants and citizens living in Northern Ireland the right to vote once every seven years for a position that has no legislative power whatsoever.
Not exactly the Magna Carta then for emigrants and northerners, and there is no guarantee that the convention’s proposal will be accepted by the Irish government when it is formally put to them.
Indeed, it was not a great week for emigrant vote supporters. Several opinion polls now show that the Irish Senate will be abolished by referendum this Friday.
The Senate, which does have some legislative powers, is the upper house of the Dail (Parliament), and there was always a cohort who thought that a seat for emigrants in that institution would give them a valuable voice.
In their wisdom, however, successive prime ministers who had 11 nominations preferred to give the seats mostly to party hacks rather than break any historic ground.
Ironically, the Senate vote takes place on the weekend of the third Global Irish Forum, marking the continued effort of the Irish government to reach out to their business diaspora abroad.
The more cynical would posit that economic assistance, not recognition, of emigrant rights is the real priority of successive Irish governments, and it is not a million miles from the truth.
When, after much pressure, the vast country of Mexico allowed its emigrants the right to vote in elections, all of 40,000 people showed up out of 11.9 million Mexicans living abroad.
It is clear there would be similar small numbers of Irish expatriates who would cast their ballot, but the political parties in Ireland are adamant, it seems, that they should not be allowed that franchise in general elections.
A cut-off date of five years after leaving Ireland and a bullet proof voting system that would prevent any fraud would discharge the obligation to citizens abroad who send so much funds back home, form the backbone of the Irish diaspora and contribute mightily to Ireland’s footprint across the world.
Alas, the news from the convention seems an anemic middle way. Allowing a vote (or maybe not) in presidential elections seems the best on offer.
The 1916 Proclamation, the foundation stone document of the Irish state, spoke of the vital support of Ireland’s “exiled children in America” and their importance.
Almost a century later those exiled children are still in America and many other places as well, but their contribution is not similarly acknowledged. It is an issue that should be redressed.
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