The debate over who should be permitted to vote and who should not be heated up this week over plans to allow the Irish Diaspora to vote in future Irish presidential elections.
It's an old debate, one that seems full of pitfalls and unforeseen consequences for the many Irish in Ireland who ardently defend the current status quo.
Each time the subject is raised it is very instructive to hear the hard-headed pronouncements made in favor or against it from Malin Head to Mizen. This October Irish voters are likely to be asked whether or not they will extend the vote to their fellow Irish, born and raised in Ireland, who now live and work abroad.
Article 2 of the Irish Constitution is quite clear on the matter: “It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with the law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.”
The prospect of the Diaspora voting to change anything in Ireland is extremely threatening to its current complacency over who gets a say and who shouldn't. The Irish in America, for example, strike a particular kind of fear into the cozy consensus in Dublin.
Who wants a Trump supporting troglodyte or an Ancient Order of Homophobes member to alter the arithmetic of Irish affairs, some grouse? But let's calm down, the Irish government isn't proposing giving a vote to U.S. citizens based on their Irish heritage.
Only the eligible Ireland-born Diaspora, who have been on the national voting rolls and who were born in the 32 Counties, would be considered. That's not the Trump demographic at all, as it happens. In fact, it would represent an engaged, youthful, exiled, and quite possibly anti-Fianna Fail and Fine Gale, if not ardently left-wing, demographic.
That would be quite a voting block, with unique strengths and experiences guiding it, people with a complex understanding of how Irish political and economic decisions have played out in real time on real lives. That information could help guide political policy in Ireland and perhaps drive real change but that voice is ignored because historically it unnerves the political establishment.
In the Irish Proclamation the special relationship with the Unites States was acknowledged and celebrated, but in the Irish Republic that followed that voice was quickly contained and sidelined. There it has stayed too.
Many other countries make arrangements for their Diaspora to vote in their national elections, but Ireland has refused to. If you want to vote here, move home they say. That's the kind of sour, insular, me-feinism attitude of the little-Irelanders that consider protecting the consensus and status quo to be the most important job.
It tells you how little many Irish in Ireland think of the Irish in the U.S. We are seen as reactionaries, we inspire NIMBY panic responses, we are all painted with the one brush the better to be dismissed. But the Irish who moved to America do not receive AOH and Noraid membership applications at their arriving JFK terminal.
It's a double banishment really. First the economic and political climate all but forces young Irish people to take flight, then they lose their right to participate in the country that found no place for them. Stamped for export, then silenced. Agus oiche mhaith.
Again, every other EU nation has managed to extend this basic right to their citizens. U.S. citizen living in Ireland can vote in U.S. elections, every British citizen living in Ireland (or at least those who have been there under 15 years) has right to vote in their elections so why can't we?
It's surprising at this point that there hasn't been a European Court of Justice or European Court of Human Rights finding that Ireland is in breach of fundamental E.U. rights on the matter.
Could it be that, as The Economist wrote in 2006, it's really a case of Ireland “exporting the opposition?”
At the very least, critics contend, there should be a Seanad constituency for the Diaspora, and possibly a couple of Dail (Irish parliament) constituencies too. A Northern Ireland constituency, one for the mainland UK, one for rest of Europe, one for the Americas, one for Oceania and one for the rest, with overseas Dail seats requiring approximately 10 times the density of a resident seat, could be a working solution.
We now live in a dynamically interconnected world. American wakes and the like belong to history. So there's no need to entertain the straw man arguments made by some in Ireland that the entire 80 million Irish Diaspora is on the brink of deciding local elections. That's on its face nonsense.
That's just scaremongering to hide what has really been going on all these years. Some Irish citizens at home are arguing against Irish citizens abroad getting the vote because you might not vote the way they like.
What do you think? Should Ireland's Diaspora be able to vote in Ireland's Presidential election? Let us know in the comments section below.