Category: Archive

Boston man seeks support in race for Irish Senate

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

All politics are local, the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill always said.

Not so, says Declan Boland, Dublin-born Boston resident and candidate for the Irish Senate.

If you’re Irish, Boland would like your support. He would like your vote as well, but unfortunately for Boland’s candidacy, most of Irish, at home or abroad, don’t have a vote — he is running as one of six senators elected by graduates of the two universities, the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin, Trinity College.

Boland, a 46-year-old executive working for IBM, is the first non-resident Irish citizen attempting to represent the diaspora in Ireland. He believes his role would be a practical one, as well as giving voice to “Ireland’s diaspora of 80 million people or more,” who, he said, “have a strong emotional bond to Ireland.”

“I see tremendous economic success in Ireland since 1996,” Boland said last week. “But the U.S. recession will hit home in Ireland, at a time when reforms are needed more than ever, particularly in infrastructure.

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“In a global economy many events occur beyond Ireland’s shores that have a profound impact on the daily lives of the people of Ireland. Jobs are created and lost, families are reunited or separated, business is created and competes, all far beyond the influence of local politicians and business leaders.”

Hence, Boland asked, “does it not make sense to extend the power of influence of politics in Ireland that decisions made abroad can have impact on the lives of people of Ireland?”

How would Boland get to sit in the Irish Senate, or Seanad +ireann? After all, no Irish citizen living outside of Ireland can vote in Irish elections, apart from diplomats and serving members of the armed forces, an issue long-contentious with Irish immigrants around the world.

This is his plan: the Irish Parliament consists of two Houses, D_il +ireann and Seanad +ireann. A general election to Seanad +ireann must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of D_il +ireann, hence, now that we have had the election to the Dail last Friday, the Seanad election must occur soon.

The Seanad has 60 members, elected as follows: 11 are nominated by the taoiseach of the day; another 43 are elected by five panels representing vocational interests namely, Culture and Education, Agriculture, Labour, Industry and Commerce and Public Administration; and, crucially for Boland’s bid, six Senators are elected by the graduates of two universities, three each by the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin, Trinity College, by postal ballot.

“There is a pent-up demand to contribute to Irish political life,” Boland said, referring to the most recent generation of emigrants who left Ireland for the U.S. and other more prosperous parts of the world in the 1980s and ’90s.

“I would like to create a ‘new’ position to represent the people of Ireland, Boland continued, “as a U.S.-based senator in the Seanad. My platform is to mobilize the non-resident Irish community to exert its influence for the general good of the people and economy of Ireland.”

Noreen Bowden, who lives in Galway, is an Irish American who has studied the Irish diaspora for years. She considers the disenfranchisement of Irish citizens abroad a continuing failure of successive Irish governments.

“Not to provide some form of absentee balloting is a real failure,” she said, “especially in a country that now prides itself on its high-tech prowess.”

Boland, a green card holder, is not prevented from running for election in another country, as are U.S. citizens.

Patrick Hurley, a Woodside resident and former campaigner for Irish immigration rights, suggested that “a green card is a document of intent to become an American citizen, whereas for people on work visas or who are illegal, these people are disenfranchised.”

Hurley added that the question of representation came up when he was a founding member of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement, but that it was dismissed as a distraction from the real goal, green cards for undocumented Irish, and ultimately, U.S. citizenship.

“There is also the whole question of no taxation without representation,” Hurley added. “I wonder what Irish citizens resident abroad would say if you told them, ‘yes, you can vote, but you also have to pay taxes back in Ireland.’ ”

A U.S. State Department official said that U.S. citizens “can and do run for and hold public office in foreign countries,” and that it was only an issue if the host country requested them to renounce U.S. citizenship — “then they would have to do that.”

How would Boland hold down his job in Boston and still sit in the Seanad +ireann? His answer is a confident one: “Technology can allow me to harness the constituency of the non-resident Irish. The Senate meets on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I could make most sittings where the overseas viewpoint is important.” And while he has plenty of practical intentions, there is also the cultural and ceremonial: “The challenge is to convert St Patrick’s Day goodwill into something that is a more meaningful contribution and relationship with Ireland.”

With just under 40,000 graduates eligible to vote, Boland said he feels confident that he will be successful — after all, he pointed out, 40 percent of eligible graduates live abroad.

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