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400,000 Irish have emigrated since 2008. We’re Coming Back is fights so their voices will be heard in Ireland. Photo by: Getty

Why it is time for the Irish government to allow emigrant voting

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400,000 Irish have emigrated since 2008. We’re Coming Back is fights so their voices will be heard in Ireland. Photo by: Getty

On the December 4, 2013 Eamon Gilmore, Ireland's current Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, opened the review of Ireland's foreign policy and external engagement to public comment.

The decision to open foreign policy to public comment for the first time since the mid-1990s can only be welcomed by the Irish public and by the 400,000 Irish people who have left the country since 2008.

On January 29 of this year the EU Commission reproached Ireland directly for not allowing its considerable emigrant population any political representation within their state of origin.

The Commission further remarked that 'the main justification for disenfranchisement – that citizens living abroad no longer have sufficient links with their home country – seems outdated in today's interconnected world.' Both the Tánaiste and the EU Commission agree: the times have changed and it is time Ireland changed along with them.

We live in a world increasingly shaped by migration. The global migrant population has more than doubled since the 1960s; the consolidation of legislation enabling free movement of people and the relative convenience and low cost of contemporary means of travel continue to factor in the increase of this number.

Ireland itself has a long history of people leaving in search of work. However, despite this fact, Ireland is one of only three EU countries to completely disenfranchise its citizens overseas.

Denied the right to vote in national elections at home, and without the right to vote in their country of residence, Irish emigrants constitute a small group of European migrants that can elect no national representatives anywhere in the world. They are completely denied any access to the democratic process at the national level.

As such, We're Coming Back (WCB), the new movement for an emigrant vote, has decided to take up Gilmore's invitation to contribute. On the understanding that the climate is better for Irish emigrants who want to participate in public affairs at home, WCB sent in a submission in which the case was made for an external vote for the Irish overseas.

Stating that 'over 120 countries worldwide have provided for an external vote enfranchising their migrant workers without undermining the rights of their resident population,' WCB emphasized the larger context of the question of an emigrant vote.

Citing the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was adopted in December 1990 by the United Nations General Assembly, the submission stresses that the diaspora are people with rights as opposed to the 'resource' Government officials sometimes wish to 'harness.'

WCB also refutes the oft-presented argument that the Irish Diaspora is simply too large to be included in the political decision-making process of Ireland. Using Croatia as an example – 400,000 emigrants and 4.3 million resident nationals – they insist that there are more than enough precedents and more than enough ways to provide against an 'overwhelming' vote from abroad for Ireland to incorporate its overseas citizens and grant them political representation.

These arguments have been made before but, as Ireland holds the highest average rate of emigration in Europe, the Irish abroad are a growing issue in more ways than one. As Eamon Gilmore himself said in his speech on December 4, "these facts are not new, but they are coming into ever sharper focus."

* David Burns is a founding organizer of "We're Coming Back."

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