The landslide repeal of the Eight Amendment and the massive #HometoVote movement shows Irish immigrants commitment to modern Ireland.
A recent Irish Times survey on the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment offered Irish-born citizens living abroad, a question that asked whether they were in favor of voting rights for emigrants.
“The vast majority of citizens surveyed were in favor of voting rights for emigrants, with just 6 per cent against. Sixty-two per cent said emigrants should retain their vote no matter how long ago they left, while 32 per cent said it should be for a limited number of years only (This would be similar to a U.K. law which limits voting rights to emigrants for a period of 15 years).”
Over 3.6 million Irish citizens abroad could be eligible to vote, but under current Irish law, Irish citizens are only allowed to vote if they have been temporarily out of the country for less than 18 months, and, in order to cast their ballot, they must also return to Ireland (there is no option for a postal, proxy or electronic vote). Suffrage or franchise, the right to vote, is a significant right for citizens, some would say, an inalienable right. Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that does not allow emigrants the right to vote. France offers unlimited rights to overseas citizens.
According to ACE, The Electoral Knowledge Network, over 115 countries in the world on every continent offer overseas citizens the right to vote.
Voting from abroad is nothing new. The Roman Emperor Augustus who ruled from 27 B.C. until his death in A.D. 14, allowed the citizens of 28 colonies to cast votes for Roman city offices. Since then, military and non-military personnel have been able to exercise their external franchise. The U.K., the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all offer limited rights of citizens abroad to vote.
In addition to the fact that Irish emigrants have demonstrated an interest in Ireland’s political, cultural and social life (by returning to vote in vast numbers on issues of importance such as marriage equality and reproductive rights) emigrants (especially Northern Ireland citizens) are subject to decisions made in Ireland, decisions that affect their ability to return home, to reside in their adopted countries and that affect future generations, for example the ability of children and grandchildren to obtain and maintain their citizenships and their right to live and work in Ireland.
While an argument can be made that ex-pats should not be allowed to vote in parliamentary elections (where residency and local issues play a key role), Irish emigrants have a significant interest in the larger, national issues.
In addition, in order for the government to realize their expressed desire to foster and to encourage relationships with the diaspora, including them in the national agenda is essential.
Although various Irish governments have pledged their commitment to diaspora voting rights a referendum continues to be postponed. Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar had suggested the possibility of offering a referendum allowing Irish citizens abroad the right to vote alongside the abortion referendum, but again the emigrant community have been disappointed. A 2013 constitutional convention recommended emigrant voting in Presidential elections, but, even with the looming presidential election of 2018, this has not happened. According to government, part of the issue is that who and in what circumstance overseas citizens will be able to vote has not been adequately defined.
The time for excuses is over. To the thousands of voters who returned to Ireland to cast their ballots on the issues to repeal the eighth amendment and equality rights, to the millions of Irish citizens who have been forced or have chosen to migrate and to all who remain committed to a shared vision of Ireland that values their contribution, the time to re-enfranchise overseas citizens is now.
This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributors network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor click here.