2016 sees the people of Ireland celebrate the dreams and ideals of the heroes of 1916. To suggest that these ideals have been fully achieved would be ignorant of the fact that 20% of all Irish citizens are disenfranchised from the right to vote and are silenced as soon as they set off from the loneliest of airports. Our greatest resource has left and is scattered all over the globe. Very often they have left out of economic necessity, a lack of opportunity and a lack of hope. They represent the people of Ireland every day in everything they say and do. Many want to return home but cannot. Many will want to come home in the future, but will not be able to. Their hearts will always be in Ireland. Their voices have been silenced for too long. The current government made giant strides in appointing a minister for the diaspora. Wouldn't it be nice if those abroad could vote to elect a candidate to represent them directly?
The constitutional convention has suggested the issue of voting rights for those abroad for a number of years. Alas it continues to be kicked to touch. What is the overriding fear? The established parties may fear the unknown of 20%, worrying that a lesser party could be catapulted to the forefront of Irish politics. Yet this fear is unsubstantiated and would be alleviated when it is considered that emigrant groups, such as the recently formed VotingRights.ie, primary call is for the right to vote in presidential elections. A presidential election should ensure that every citizen has the ability to vote for its first citizen. But surely a situation where a citizen is deemed incapable of voting for its first citizen in this modern age is laughable. The stark reality is that Ireland is bottom of the table in terms of voting rights in the EU as it has no absentee ballot process.
The detractors will suggest that the emigrant is not entitled to have a say in the affairs of the country, with the old adage “no representation without taxation”. After all, why should those living abroad be afforded a voice in the affairs of the country, when they are not even living there? With 20% of the Irish nation now living overseas, surely it is not too much to ask for their input when it comes to leading our country? In terms of taxation, the reality is that only the United States in the developed world places a tax on its citizens on foreign earned income. Eritrea follows America’s lead. It is not demanded amongst any of our European counterparts and nearly every country has some form of emigrant voting rights.
Ireland is world famous for Waterford Crystal, Guinness and Kerrygold amongst many other things. However our greatest export is our people and the amazing young minds that have left the island to build a new life further afield. They have become ambassadors on every level and have grown to the top levels in industry and business and society around the globe. The Irish government has been happy to invite them home for “The Gathering” and been happy to invite Irish owned companies back to the emerald isle to set up and invest in the country. All of these are good and positive things. Surely it is not too much to allow these Irish citizens living abroad a say in how they want to see Ireland grow and develop.
As an Irish citizen living abroad for the last 12 years, I would like to think that my voice would be heard at home. I read the daily papers online; I listen to the hurling; and I’m in contact on a daily basis on the phone and FaceTime. The reality is that even though I am far from home, I very often know more about home and what is going on than some of those living at home themselves.
Bunreacht na hEireann states that it is the “birthright of every person born in the Island of Ireland … to be a part of the Irish Nation”. Wouldn’t it be nice if all those Irish citizens living abroad were allowed to be heard? The spirit and hope of 1916 seeks to inspire the youth of today to embrace new dreams and ideals. Is it too much of a dream to give our loved ones away from home a say in how the country is run? Surely it is their country as much as ours? Two signatories of the Easter Proclamation were emigrants (Thomas J. Clarke and James Connolly) and fought for the rights of Irishmen around the world. They will be honored and recognized throughout the centennial celebrations. They will never be forgotten in Irish history. Let us take this opportunity to ensure we never forget those who have left our shores.
To learn more, visit votingrights.ie