In September 2013 the Irish constitutional convention, an advisory gathering of mostly ordinary citizens, recommended that the government undertake to allow voting rights for Irish emigrants, thereby bringing them into line with every other European country.
According to GlobalIrish.ie, a 2006 study of countries that allow their emigrants to vote included 21 African nations 13 North and South American countries, 15 Asian countries, six Pacific countries and most importantly, 36 European countries.
The Irish government at the time of the constitutional convention indicated it would bring forward a referendum to allow Irish abroad to vote in presidential elections, but when the final decision on referendums was made public only gay marriage and an utterly meaningless vote on whether to allow 21-year-olds to run for Irish president were allowed.
The government did appoint a minister for the diaspora which was a very welcome move, but the lack of action on emigrant voting rights has not been addressed other than barring emigrant votes in the next presidential election.
Now comes the latest effort to allow Irish citizens abroad and in Northern Ireland to vote in a reformed Irish Senate election via a blue ribbon commission chaired by notable academic and former senator Dr. Maurice Manning, set up when a vote to abolish the Irish Senate failed.
The first thing to note is that there are no expectations that this reformed Senate will be in place by the next election which will likely be in spring of 2016, so we are looking at likely 2021 or so for the opportunity to put in place this new suggested resolution.
Having failed to abolish the Senate, the new proposals bear promise and properly recognize the need for Irish citizens abroad to play their part in Irish democracy, not to mention those in Northern Ireland who are proud to be Irish citizens.
There is the inevitable red herring in the proposals, with the statement that up to 800,000 Irish passport holders would take part in the voting.
The fact is only a tiny minority will take up the offer. Only 13,000 of British expats who number 5.5 million registered to vote in their election according to a Daily Telegraph article.
Giving Irish citizens abroad an opportunity to vote can only be good for Ireland, tying them and their children to the Irish Diaspora in the future.
It is wrong that they will not have an opportunity to vote in the next election for the Irish Senate despite Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny’s promise of a “democratic revolution.”
A democratic senate with the voice of the Irish abroad heard and listened to could only work for the betterment of Ireland.
As uplift.ie, an activist group on this issue said, “More than 120 countries have provisions for their citizens abroad to cast a ballot. Ireland does not. Engagement with Irish citizens abroad has long been of enormous importance for Ireland. It has been a distinctive feature of efforts to bring a lasting peace to the island. It has built economic links resulting in trade, investment and tourism and the achievements of our citizens have enhanced Ireland’s profile and reputation internationally.”
If the framers of the new plan and the Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan were to ensure that the vote was granted in time for the next election it would be a hugely significant step in the right direction.