The new Junior Minister for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan, has outlined a proposed action that will allow Irish passport holders living abroad to vote to elect three Senators.
These Irish Senators would have responsibility for “the Americas, Europe/ UK, and Australia/elsewhere”.
The matter of voting rights at home for the hundreds of thousands who have left Ireland in recent years has been a constant matter of protest among groups of expats around the world. Last month, during the cabinet reshuffle, for the first time in Ireland’s history, Jimmy Deenihan was tasked with the role of Junior Minister for the Diaspora.
The new Minister has said that there are “well over a million” people with Irish passports living abroad.
Deenihan said that along with having a say in Ireland’s presidential elections, this Senate initiative could be be part of a revitalized approach towards representing Irish passport holders abroad and inviting investment.
Speaking during a think-tank session with local tourism and service representatives in Youghal, Co Cork Deenihan was responding to a suggestion that providing Irish passport holders abroad with voting right would enhance their “sense of belonging” to the country. It would also encourage them to visit home, a fact which was demonstrated by the 'Gathering Ireland 2013.'
While Deenihan said voting rights at a Senate level and for the presidential elections might be possible Dáil (Parliament) voting rights would be impractical as there “could be more voters outside a constituency than within it.”
He added that the direct Senate representation would be the option he favored.
He said, “The three senators could prove to be worth more than the taxpayer is paying to have them there.
“They would be making a very important connection with the diaspora and could be using that connection to pursue investment. It would be a two-way process.”
He was accompanied by Cork East TD David Stanton, chairman of the Committee on Justice, Defense, and Equality.
Stanton said that he supported Deenihan’s views on Senate representation, describing it as “a great opportunity” for representation of passport holders and “millions of others” of Irish descent.
Deenihan said that when he was moved from the position of Minister for the Arts Heritage, and Gaeltacht Affairs to the new Junior Ministerial role he had told Enda Kenny there was no point in having a new portfolio unless there was also a plan of action, the Irish Examiner reported.
Deenihan said, “The last thing you want to do is build up hopes and not deliver.
“It could become counter-productive if people don’t see results.”
Earlier this week the new Junior Minister spoke to the Irish Times about taking on this new role.
He said “When you are born in a county like Kerry, with such a huge diaspora, even from within your own family circle, you are connected with the Irish abroad from birth.”
Deenihan commented on how much planning has already gone in to this new position.
For four months the Department of Foreign Affairs has been consulting organizations and individuals with an interest in emigration issues to review how Ireland can better engage with its communities abroad. Now a new “diaspora strategy,” due in September, will be compiled. The strategy will include issues such a welfare support to the vulnerable and the elderly, as well as business and tourism and engaging with the Irish abroad.
He said, “There’s an awful lot already happening.
“I have always said that as a country, for various reasons, we didn’t maintain that connection [to the diaspora] to the extent that we maybe should have. But we have improved considerably.”
Having a maximum of 20 months in office before the next Irish general election Deenihan also recognizes that time is of the essence.
He added, “To implement a new strategy I have to move very fast. I realize that.”