The Constitutional Convention in Dublin will meet shortly to consider changes to the Irish Constitution.
The lack of an emigrant representative among the 100 strong members is an unfortunate reality that will lead to a perception abroad that once again the Irish government is making clear that the emigrant voice is not important, even though the emigrant dollar clearly is.
The convention is taking place against a backdrop of harsh economic times and increased efforts to bring the Irish abroad back into the fold. The emigrant vote would be a perfect place to start.
One of the issues to be discussed is the emigrant vote, and there was good news in an Irish Times poll this week, with 68 percent of those surveyed believing that emigrants should be allowed to vote in Irish presidential elections.
Only 17 percent believed that emigrants should be denied a vote. The finding is clearly a green light for the government and the constitutional convention to grab this issue.
Clearly there is a mindset in Ireland that the emigrant vote, under limited conditions, is a good step for this government. It will now depend on government willpower and determination to make it happen.
Currently, 115 countries worldwide allow their citizens abroad to vote. Even high emigration countries such as Mexico and Poland have the provision.
Read more news on Irish immigration here
Ireland badly needs to get in line with international consensus and provide its emigrants with a means of taking part in elections in the country of their citizenship.
Of the 115 countries, many impose restrictions on their citizens abroad. That is fair and reasonable. A time limit, such as five years after an emigrant has left home, would be a fair compromise.
Equally, presidential elections are far less likely to be impacted by emigrant votes than small rural constituencies in Dail (Irish Parliament) elections, which can swing on a handful of votes.
It is the symbolic rather than the actual impact that emigrants seek, the acknowledgement so often given when investment and funding is required that the diaspora is a vital part of the Irish identity.
Successive Irish governments have always maintained a healthy distance from the diaspora, never fully comprehending its priorities, its perceived foibles or its intent.
The result has been many missed opportunities to build the links that are so vital to Ireland at a time of maximum distress in the old country.
The Constitutional Convention is about managed change to ensure that all aspects of Irish identity are given full expression.
There is arguably no more important part of that equation than the Irish abroad, especially at a time when thousands are once again voting with their feet and leaving.
Their goodwill, and their children’s goodwill, if they stay away, will form the diaspora of the future. It makes perfect sense for the Irish to reach out to those who leave now and ensure their participation in the Irish landscape of the future. The diaspora deserves that at the very least.
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