A global coalition of Irish emigrant groups in Britain, Australia, Germany, the US and Latin America has proposed a comprehensive set of measures to advance emigrant voting rights and enhance democracy in the upcoming program for government. The coalition, led by www.VotingRights.ie has sent the proposal to Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny as well as to the Fianna Fail negotiating team.
“We are very pleased that RTE chose to include emigrants in the Centenary events by having emigrants from around the world read the Proclamation” said Billy Lawless, a longtime emigration advocate from Chicago. “It’s really quite an extraordinary video and close to a million Irish people have already seen it. But wouldn’t it be grand if we got the vote as well and were treated as equal citizens."
“With Ireland celebrating the Centenary of 1916, it’s time for Ireland to live up to the inclusive vision laid out by the Proclamation, of a republic ‘representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women’ said Noreen Bowden, one of the founders of www.VotingRights.ie which organized the letter.
“It’s extraordinary,” Bowden went on that “even as Ireland celebrates the Rising it accepts the disenfranchisement of one-in-six Irish-born citizens simply because of their status as emigrants, which really amounts to a two-tier system of citizenship. This is not the democratic vision of the seven signers of the Proclamation in 1916. Our proposal for the program of government seeks to fulfill the promise of the Rising: our initiative is comprehensive, democratic, and long overdue.”
Among the groups signing on to the letter are Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) in Great Britain, the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) in Silicon Valley, the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce, We’re Coming Back, the Irish German Business Network and the newly formed Irish Association of Latin America. Get the Boat to Vote is also supporting this initiative.
The letter notes that while Ireland now defines itself as a "Global Island" the nation ranks at the very bottom globally when it comes to meeting modern democratic norms for emigrant voting rights. Over 125 nations in the world have already created an absentee ballot process and other electoral options to ensure that their emigrants have the opportunity to vote.
According to Mary Hickman the head of the Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) in Great Britain, "Ireland is really quite out-of-step with the rest of her E.U. neighbors when it comes to voting rights. It's really quite astonishing. The Republic has one of the most restrictive voting laws in the E.U. Ireland drops you from the electoral registrar 18 months after you leave Ireland, while the majority of EU nations have no limits at all."
The letter credits the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Foreign Minister Charles Flanagan for creating Ireland’s first Diaspora policy, for appointing the first Minister of the Diaspora and holding the first Global Civic Forum. The letter notes, however, that the government did not take up the recommendation of the recent Constitutional Convention to give all Irish citizens, including emigrants and citizens in Northern Ireland, the right to vote in Presidential elections and has done little to advance the issue of voting rights, which goes to the core of what it means to be a citizen.
According to Larry Donnelly a law lecturer at NUIG, “We are proposing something similar to what is already being done in several EU nations – the creation of a special 5 seat constituency just for emigrant representation in the Dail. France, Portugal and Italy have similar systems."
The ten point proposal for a new program of government for emigrants asks the government to:
● Maintain a Minister for Diaspora Affairs position within the Cabinet.
● Act on the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention, and allow a referendum in 2017 giving emigrants and Irish citizens in Northern Ireland the right to vote in the 2019 Presidential election.
● Allow all Irish citizens including emigrants and Irish citizens residing in Northern Ireland the right to vote on all future Constitutional elections.
● Accept the recommendations of the Seanad Reform Working Group by extending the vote to citizens abroad to ensure Diaspora representation in the chamber.
● Grant the right to vote in elections to the Dáil to all Irish citizens including emigrants by the creation of a system of reserved constituencies.
● Create an independent Electoral Commission to modernize Ireland electoral process.
● Review current voting regulations to expand the time that emigrants can remain on their home electoral registrar.
● Increase Consular Representation to main centers of recent emigration including Australia, Canada, United States, the Gulf States in the Middle East and Asia.
● Continue the work of the Global Irish Economic Forum and the Global Irish Civic Forum.
● Complete a study by the Dept. of Environment and the DFA on policies, laws and administrative issues that must be addressed to secure voting rights for emigrants by the end of 2016. This study was announced in March of 2015.