The initiative by a group of young Irish emigrants based in Canada to create a forum for the Irish abroad to cast a symbolic vote in the upcoming election in Ireland is a welcome one.
The site can be reached at BallotBox.ie, and it allows those abroad to vote for the candidate in their constituency back in Ireland prior to the election on February 25.
It is a brave step and focuses attention once again on the vexed issue of emigrant votes in Irish elections.
Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael issued promises this week that emigrants could vote in the future in Irish presidential elections, which is the bare minimum.
Presidential elections are held once every seven years and have often been uncontested. The position of president, despite its symbolic weight, has little real power.
A fairer law would allow emigrants who leave Ireland to retain their vote for a specified amount of time, perhaps five years, if they choose to exercise it.
With 100,000 Irish expected to leave by April 2012, the reality is that many Irish will be seeking ways to stay connected to their Irish homeland.
The government would be very shortsighted if they did not give such people a stake in the country that nurtured them.
Irish authorities have feared a huge wave of emigrant voting, which frankly seems highly unlikely. Only the most committed would cast their votes, and it would be a powerful example that Irish citizens abroad are finally being recognized as full members of Irish society.
This is a country that has exported half of its people since 1840, so it is past time that those who leave were given some standing back home.
Another way would be for the incoming taoiseach (prime minister) to nominate an emigrant to a Senate seat in the Upper House.
While the Senate is likely to be abolished by the next election, the fact of choosing a recent member of the diaspora to serve in the role during the next government’s time in office would also be a critical acknowledgment of the importance of the Irish abroad.
Another concrete step would be to appoint a minister for the diaspora, such as Israel has. Such a minister could work with emigrant communities all over the world and help harness the economic potential of the diaspora, which has been such a topic in Irish circles of late.
The BallotBox.ie initiative is an interesting first step that deserves the support of all emigrants. Let us hope that they log on.
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