The result of the Senate referendum brings an opportunity for our Diaspora to have a vote and a voice in a reformed Irish parliament. The result now opens the door for my fellow delegates of the constitutional convention to debate the granting of voting rights to our citizens living outside the state in a reformed Senate.
The Constitutional Convention has already voted in favor of emigrant voting in presidential elections. Now they can add voting rights in senate elections.
This expansion of voting rights to our Diaspora could be view by many in power and the establishment as a treat. However, Ciaran Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform put it well when he said, "extending the right to vote for Irish Born members of our Diaspora should be seen as an investment not as a liability."
The Senate and Senators too must act. At the next meeting of the the Senate's own committee on public consultations I will be proposing that we begin hearings on what a reformed Seanad should be like. Those who argued that it should be abolished, including the Taoiseach, and those who said it needed to be reformed must come together to debate how the senate can be radically reformed so that it can be more effective for the benefit of all our citizens. The new areas of responsibility that the Seanad should adopt could include areas like EU legislative scrutiny and government appointments.
The way it is elected is the other key area of reform. There has to be one guiding principal, all citizens must have a vote, those in the North must have a vote and the Irish Overseas must also have a vote.
It is also ironic that 184 years after Daniel O’Connell, the Great Emancipator, secured the right to vote for Catholics, 95 years after the franchise was extended to women and over 45 years after nationalists marched in Derry for ‘One Man One Vote’ that Ireland continues to disenfranchise 3.2 million people who are entitled to be citizens. This number includes those 1.8million living in Northern Ireland and those 1.2 million who are Irish passport holders living overseas. This figure constitutes nearly 40 percent of all those who are entitled to be citizens of the Republic.
It is widely acknowledged that of our democracy, our system of Government and our parliament as it currently stands need radical transformation. If we are to strengthen our Republic for the long term we must couple reform of the system of Government with ensuring that all our citizens no matter where they live have a vote.
*Mark Daly is Senate Spokesperson for the Irish Overseas and Diaspora Chairman of the Irish American Association.