Many emigrants are having to leave because the system failed them here, yet we deny them democratic engagement.
Not allowing citizens of a republic, regardless of their location, a right to vote is an affront to the very essence of a republic. A reformed Seanad would allow our Irish Citizens living outside the state a voice in Leinster House.
It is more than ironic that former president Mary McAleese, whose allegiance to Ireland is unquestionable, was denied the right to vote for herself in her first election because she was born and lived in Belfast. It is also ironic that 184 years after Daniel O’Connell, the Great Emancipator, secured the right to vote for Catholics, 95 years after the franchise was extended to women and over 45 years after nationalists marched in Derry for ‘One Man One Vote’ – The Irish State continues to disenfranchise over 3 million people who either are or are entitled to be citizens. This number includes those 1.8 million living in Northern Ireland and those 1.2 million Irish born citizens living overseas.
The Constitutional Convention on the 28th of September will be debating and discussing if the State should allow all those with citizenship, who are part of the nation, a vote. Not allowing citizens of a republic, regardless of their location, a right to vote is an affront to the very essence of a republic.
By addressing issues facing the Irish overseas and the diaspora, as a country we will enhance the relationship between Ireland and the global Irish community. Extending the right to vote for Irish born members of our diaspora should be seen as an investment not as a liability.
The Constitutional Convention which will be debating the extension of the right to vote to citizens outside the State in presidential elections is taking a step in the right direction. However, allowing 40 per cent of our citizens the right to vote only once every seven years is too small a step.
In other countries, citizens living abroad are generally less directly or continuously concerned with or affected by the day-to-day problems of a country. This is not the case in Ireland, where many of the 50,900 citizens who emigrated in the last 12 months would argue they had to leave because the economic and political system failed them. Yet we deny them the most basic form of democratic engagement.
Second, we should follow the example of our European colleagues and allow citizens living abroad some form of parliamentary representation.
Minister for Transport and Tourism Leo Varadkar made a proposal to extend the franchise to the Irish overseas, but we need many more leaders to step forward to speak on their behalf. In Ireland a reformed Senate is a practicable option that would ensure that Irish citizens who live abroad have a vote and a voice in Leinster House.
We have a democratic deficit that we must address. If we are to strengthen our Republic for the long term we must reform voting rights for our citizens, wherever they are in the world.
*Mark Daly is Senate Spokesperson for the Irish Overseas and Diaspora
Chairman of the Irish American Association