With the election date in Ireland finally set for February 25, Irish people are gearing up for what is one of the most significant general elections in the history of the State. Party manifestos have been drawn up, campaigns are being rolled out and soon the entire country will be littered with election posters as every available lamppost in Ireland becomes a platform for a political mantra.
But as people cast their ballot papers, a universal murmur will echo around the world as the countless number of Irish emigrant voices go unaccounted.
Under current Irish law, if you are an Irish citizen living abroad you cannot be entered onto the register of electors. Postal votes are limited to Irish diplomats and army officials stationed abroad.
Hundreds of thousands of emigrants who have recently left Irish shores forfeited their right to vote in elections at home upon departure. For people who have emigrated within the last 18 months, and remain registered at their old address, the only option available is to fly home to vote.
Here in the U.S. citizens abroad are afforded the right to vote by postal/absentee ballots. The U.S. government devised a special program to support those who are abroad during elections. The Federal Voting Assistance Program states that U.S. citizens can vote absentee in any election for federal office if the citizen is 18 years or older.
In the U.K., citizens abroad can vote in both general and European elections for up to 15 years after moving abroad, as long as the citizen is registered to vote.
Germany, Spain, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are just a few of the other countries that offer their expatriates the right to vote.
Many argue that citizens living abroad forgo their right to vote and should not have a say in the future of a country where they no longer pay taxes.
Kevin Dillon, originally from Sallins, Co. Kildare, and now living in Washington, D.C., agrees with this sentiment.
“I don't believe that Irish emigrants should have a vote in Dail (parliament) elections. We do not pay taxes to the state and do not have to live directly with the repercussions of our electoral decisions,” he told the Irish Voice.
Despite this, Dillon does regret missing out on polling day at home, but reflects that this is the existence of an immigrant.
“I am a little annoyed at missing out on a lot of things in Irish life but that is the tragedy of immigration, the price we pay for being Paddys on the road. It's annoying when you have to leave by necessity more than choice,” he says.
Originally from Crumlin, Co. Dublin, Lyndsey Fay made the move to Canada 16 months ago as a result of the downturn and is frustrated she cannot vote.
“Personally, I think it's disgraceful that we can't vote. Probably because I see myself as a 'temporary immigrant' in that I intend to return home in the next few years, and so I believe I should have a say in the forming of the next government, because the main reason that I'm currently living abroad is due to the failings of the current government, ” she told the Irish Voice.
Fay made the point that modern technology means that Irish emigrants are very informed about the situation at home.
“I feel that this diaspora is in a different position to previous generations. Modern technology and instant information allow us to be informed of the up to the minute happenings at home. So the disconnect that may have existed before between expat and home no longer exists, “ Fay said.
“I know that some people use this argument of disconnect to undermine my right to vote. However, I am still a citizen of Ireland and have only been out of the country for just over a year. How disconnected could I be? Who is to say that you or I aren't as well informed as some Irish citizens living at home who will vote?”
Leaving Ireland at the end of this week, Rebecca Glynn is heading to Australia like so many other Irish. With people more politically aware than ever, she is aggravated to be losing her vote.
“It's particularly frustrating considering the fact that this upcoming election is the most critical in the history of the state,” she says.
“It's of the utmost importance that the Irish people exercise their right to elect a competent government that can pull us out of mess that we are currently in.”
Like the thousands of Irish leaving, Glynn is doing so out of necessity, with the hope that Ireland’s economy will improve in her absence.
“I am traveling abroad in the hope that the economic climate will be more favorable by the time I return. How can I ensure that will happen if I can't exercise my democratic right to elect the individuals into power who can make that happen?” Glynn asks.
Patrick Flanagan, a master’s candidate at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Maryland, believes that not all Irish emigrants living abroad should have the right to vote, given the significant number of people worldwide who hold citizenship.
“Such widespread political franchise could significantly affect the electoral system in Ireland as in theory there would be more Irish voters outside of Ireland than in Ireland,” he maintains.
Instead Flanagan believes that those who recently left Irish shores should be afforded the right to vote.
“What I would like to see is the right of recent Irish emigrants within five years of non-residency to vote in their local constituency, the reason being is that it is quite possible for an Irish citizen to return home within five years, so they should have a choice in who is elected into power,” he maintains.
Despite the widespread opinion, the fact remains that Irish emigrant votes will go unaccounted in the momentous election.
While many may be tempted to literally pay the price and fly home to cast their vote, hundreds of thousands of others voices will be omitted.
During Ireland’s heyday, the government spent almost $70 million on a Dutch designed electronic voting system which was later scrapped without a single vote being cast.
Just like the abandoned e-voting system, Irish emigrant voices will become obsolete on polling day, as their say in the country’s future goes unaccounted.
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