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A polling station in Dublin. Photo by: csmonitor.com

Irish government mulls over emigrant vote for presidential elections

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A polling station in Dublin. Photo by: csmonitor.com

Irish citizens resident outside the Irish state will be asked to make submissions later this month to the Convention on the Irish Constitution on the subject of “giving citizens resident outside the state the right to vote in presidential elections at Irish embassies, or otherwise.”

It’s the first time an Irish government agency has directly sought the opinion of the global Irish diaspora on the question of whether they should be allowed to vote to chose an Irish president while living overseas.

“The convention is actively seeking submissions from Irish people around the world,” Peter Ryan, New York deputy consul general told the Irish Voice. “We’re asking people to make a submission online via the website or by emailing the Convention Secretariat directly.”

“Should citizens around the world have the right to vote in presidential elections or not? It’s a great opportunity for Irish citizens around the world to have their views heard,” Ryan continued.

“There’s nothing that we shouldn’t be able to discuss about Ireland, whatever it is. Don’t just give your views around your kitchen table or community center, share them. Maybe others haven’t heard what your view on a particular topic is. You have to add to the debate.

“The idea of a vote in the presidential election is something that has been widely debated and I think it would be great to get as much feedback from Irish citizens as possible on it now.”

Tom Arnold, the Convention on the Constitution’s chairman, was formerly global CEO of Irish aid group Concern Worldwide before heading up this groundbreaking initiative. His experience stands to him, Ryan says.

“Tom’s very sensitive, given his own history, to the needs and opinions of the Irish diaspora around the world,” Ryan added.

Whether you came to the U.S. in the fifties, sixties, seventies or even more recently, you’re welcome to share your views Ryan said.

“There’s an online survey on the Convention on the Constitution which is very easy to fill out and very quick, you can answer it anonymously in a couple of minutes. That will help to guide the conversation, which will be held live online and will be easily accessible.”

Not everyone is impressed with the move, however. Fergus Scannell, an Irish emigrant based in Woodlawn, told the Irish Voice, “This is just talks about talks. They’re asking us if we’d like to vote in the election, they’re not actually setting up the means to do so.

“I’ll participate and tell them I want to vote for the president, but I want to be able to vote in the election while living in New York too. I’m back all the time. I send money home. It’s my country too. I should be able to vote.”
Eileen Duggan, an undocumented mother of two in Woodlawn says it’s a welcome start.

“I’ll definitely email the convention with my views.  I think it’s a good sign that they’re finally beginning to notice we exist. If we were smart we’d make use of the diaspora, rather than ignore it. It’s very promising that they’re finally seeking our views,” she said.

The global network of Irish embassies and organizations has a direct line to the wider Irish diaspora, Ryan added. “We do try to keep in touch so we are aware of the challenges people are facing. It’s important to keep those channels open because they’re absolutely critical to the life of the nation.”

The Convention on the Constitution’s brief is to examine aspects of the Irish Constitution to ensure it is equipped for the 21st century. It will also make recommendations to the Dail (Irish Parliament) on future amendments to be put to the people in referendums.

The convention has already received submissions on the possibility of votes for the diaspora in the presidential election on its website, but is keen to ensure that as many Irish citizens as possible are made aware they are being asked to give their input to the convention’s deliberations.

Making a submission on-line is easy with the full details available on the website located at www.constitution.ie. You can also email the Convention Secretariat directly with your suggestions at submissions@constitution.ie.

Irish citizens abroad are also being asked to participate in an online survey that’s been set up to give the members of the convention a greater understanding of the issues facing the diaspora. The deadline for receipt of the completed surveys is September 18 at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ConventionontheConstitution

The plenary convention meeting will be streamed live on the www.constitution.ie website starting at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 28 and concluding with the result of the vote by the convention at 1 p.m. the following day.

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