Jennifer O’Connell, the Opinion Editor for the Irish Times, has written a column opposing emigrant voting rights and demeaning Irish America - "Conor McGregor for president’ makes a strong argument against emigrant voting rights.” (December 10th) 

The column linked 200 Irish right-wingers and hooligans rioting in Dublin plus a tweet from Conor McGregor about running for the Irish Presidency to conclude that hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens living outside the state should be denied the right to vote. 

As a co-founder of, I am at a loss to explain how she connects the two. One of my fellow co-founders, former Senator for the Diaspora Billy Lawless, serves as a living counterpoint to her argument: this Galway native and long-time resident of Chicago worked tirelessly to assist undocumented immigrants during his time in the US and similarly on behalf of Irish emigrants in his Seanad role.

Ms. O’Connell’s opinion added insult to injury given the fact that Ireland’s electoral system is the most restrictive in Europe, denying citizens living outside the state the vote in local, national, or EU Parliamentary elections, violating the EU’s core principle of freedom of movement. The Irish State has no regret for denying voting rights to the thousands of young people forced to leave home to find work or housing and continues to deny citizens in Northern Ireland the vote as well. 

We can respectfully disagree on the merits of allowing citizens abroad the right to vote in future elections but I was astonished when the opinion writer resorted to a classic negative stereotype of Irish Americans: "But a glance at where his support is coming from is a reminder that maybe it’s a good thing the vote is not yet open to every Maga [Make America Great Again] supporter with a Tricolour in their profile and an Irish grandma with roots in 'County Slig-go'."

Anti-Irish political cartoon titled "The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things" by Thomas Nast (1840–1902), published in Harper's Weekly on 2 September 1871. (Public Domain)

Anti-Irish political cartoon titled "The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things" by Thomas Nast (1840–1902), published in Harper's Weekly on 2 September 1871. (Public Domain)

This caricature of Irish Americans seems to be a 21st-century version of the Thomas Nast stereotypes of Irish emigrants in Harper's Weekly in the 19th century. Nast was heavily influenced by the negative caricatures of the Irish drawn by John Tenniel in Punch magazine. For over 175 years, Irish Americans have come to the aid of Ireland from the Famine years to the Good Friday Agreement and most recently Brexit and the possibility of a hard border. Yet in this opinion piece, we are simply depicted as rowdy Trump supporters screaming at a cage fight. 

During the last five years, Irish Americans with great energy mobilized to challenge Boris Johnson's ill-thought-out Brexit plan and the UK’s attempt to deny victims justice by opposing their legacy legislation. Groups like the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Brehon Law Society, and the Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement worked in a bipartisan fashion with Congressional allies like former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Richie Neal, Brian Fitzpatrick, Bill Keating, and Senator Chris Murphy to send a clear message that a hard border would lead to no trade deal with the UK. Our advocacy also reached deep inside the Biden White House as well. 

Yet none of this matters to the Irish Times editor in her glib send-up of Irish America. As a long-time friend of Ireland, I worry that many progressives in Ireland share her attitude and believe that Irish America is old, conservative, and out of touch. This isn’t to say that Irish America doesn’t include multitudes of opinions and perspectives - it does. But this caricature of Irish America that reaches all the way back to 19th-century stereotypes is inaccurate and over the top. 

Irish America knows how to leverage political power, raise millions of dollars to enhance Irish culture and remains totally engaged in protecting the GFA and supporting victims in their quest for justice. This is, of course, a separate issue from whether Irish citizens living beyond the Irish Sea should be entitled to the vote. The Irish Times should accord both the respect they deserve.  

*Kevin J. Sullivan is the co-founder of with Billy Lawless and Noreen Bowden, and is the current Project Director of the Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement. He is also the co-author of a paper entitled, “Growing the Next Generation of Irish American Leaders."