Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes said that all Irish abroad should have a say in Ireland’s national elections, but only on social media and not election ballots.
Ireland is one of the four states of the EU’s 28 members who do not let their citizens abroad vote in parliamentary elections. This has been increasingly controversial as Irish immigration is at an all time high. Almost 90,000 people have left Ireland in the last year and 60 Irish emigrate to Britain every day.
Hayes told the Irish Post that the Irish abroad should be satisfied with just a presidential election vote which is for a figurehead office. “The President of Ireland, under the Constitution, is supposed to represent the Irish Nation and the Irish Nation of course is a much bigger concept than the 26 counties of Ireland.”
He continued, “I am on record in the past as arguing why I think it would be a good idea that we would extend voting rights for Presidential elections to Irish passport holders in other jurisdictions. And I am still of that view.”
He did not think that the Irish abroad needed a voice in the Dail, saying, “The great thing with social media today is that people are really at home in terms of making their views known on what the Irish government is doing. I do not see that as a problem quite frankly.”
Although he recognized emigration as a problem that he has felt both in his family (three of his cousins emigrated recently) and in his constituency, Hayes did not offer ideas on reducing emigration. He said, “It would be simplistic and wrong to present that as something any Government could ever achieve by itself.”
Others strongly disagree with Hayes’ view on elections. Mark Daly from Fianna Fail said that voting in presidential elections is a “bare minimum.” Daly elaborated, “The President is not able to act as freely as a person who is democratically elected to represent the Irish overseas and be a voice for them inside Leinster House and say things that are unpopular and unpleasant for the Government to hear.”
Irish in Britain, formerly known as the Federation of Irish Societies, believes that all Irish should be able to vote in presidential elections and in all Irish elections up to fifteen years after emigrating. Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad believes that Irish should never lose the right to vote in Irish elections.
The Constitutional Convention, a group of 100 people responsible for updating Ireland’s seventy-five year old constitution, will debate emigrants’ voting rights this weekend. The Convention includes 66 randomly selected citizens, 33 political party representatives including one from each of the political parties from the Northern Ireland Assembly, and Tom Arnold as an independent chairman.