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Constitutional Convention backs emigrant vote for Irish Presidential elections

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Constitutional Convention debates emigrant vote.
Majority in favor.

The Constitutional Convention -- a representative sample of Irish citizens and politicians convened to make non-binding recommendations for policymakers -- has backed giving Irish emigrants a vote.

Although the Convention's suggestion have no legislative or governmental authority by themselves, its findings do have to be debated in parliament, and the result may serve as a surprise to the government who may not have been aware that support for the controversial proposal is strong at home as well as in the diaspora.

The issue was the fourth in the series of the eight topical issues that the Convention is set to debate.

78 of the Convention's 100 members balloted in favor of the proposal after two days of debate and discussion at Malahide in North Dublin, with 5 less members saying that they would be happy to extend the right to those resident in Northern Ireland.

Just 38 of the respondents also voted in favor of stipulating a time-limit to how long ex-pats could exercise the right.

Over 120 countries have provisions allowing for their overseas emigrants to vote, but successive governments have proven themselves less than enthusiastic about the possibility of extending the privilege to Irish citizens now resident overseas -- a group which is reckoned to number at least 3 million, although the figure is in constant fluctuation.

The deliberations saw experts present either side's argument before the issue was submitted to vote.

Representing traditional opposition to an emigrant vote, Dr Paul O'Connor argued that emigrants were not sufficiently well informed about Irish current affairs to be able to add a thoughtful and useful voting contribution to important national issues.

That argument was countered by the claim that the global information flow between Ireland and its diaspora -- led by widely-read diaspora websites and newspapers -- alongside freely-available VoIP services such as Skype, made the point irrelevant in today's world.

Others have argued that extending a vote to the diaspora should have been a necessary quid pro quo for the Diaspora's financial backing of tourist initiatives such as The Gathering.

Emigrant organization representatives from around the world, along with a number of Irish embassies, joined the proceedings by video feed, something the Convention's chairperson said added a "powerful insight" into how that group feels.

A number of missions issued circulars to local ex-pats soliciting submissions about their feelings on the topic which were then shortlisted and circulated to those in attendance at the plenary.

Jennie McShannong of Irish in Britain said that the Irish community there wanted to "play a part" and "have a real stake" in the running of the country.

A number of campaign groups and websites are active in lobbying for the vote including the Vote for Irish Citizens campaign, VICA.

Although the Convention's recommendations are not binding, they are reported to government, who can decide, based on the issue and strength of the vote, whether or not to hold a referendum on the issue.




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