Category: Archive

Inside File: The Irish immigrant vote, neither early nor often

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

With regard to the latter, he missed an opportunity.
Kenny has been one of the more outspoken Irish politicians in recent years in the thorny matter of extending voting rights to emigrants.
The Republic is virtually unique among true democracies in that it does not extend even limited voting rights to its native sons and daughters living overseas.
U.S. citizens living in Ireland, by contrast, can whip out the bunting and vote for the next president with a fairly minimal amount of paperwork.
It’s all rather odd really.
A few years ago it looked as if full voting rights were only a general election away.
Fianna F_il’s 1997 general election manifesto, “People Before Politics,” stated that the party was “Committed to working out the arrangements to give emigrants the right to vote in D_il, presidential and European Parliament elections, and in referendums. This can be done without amending the Constitution. Initially those who have lived abroad for up to 10 years will be eligible. Our target is to have a voting system for emigrants in place by the year 2000.”
In the end, politics came before people. The voting rights pledge ended up on the cutting floor.
The old bugaboos made sure of it.
Irish politicians reach for them when they want to kick to touch on the voting rights issue.
The “warping” effect on some D_il constituencies caused by them having significant numbers of natives living overseas is a perennial objection.
It was an argument valid to a degree during the years of mass emigration, but it is far less so now.
Then there is the classic “no representation without taxation” line.
If that concept was literally applied not a few residents of the wee Republic down the years would be exposed to charges of electoral fraud.
Despite these old reliables the voting rights issue didn’t go entirely away.
A couple of years ago Fine Gael proposed a more limited idea, one that would be confined to overseas Irish voting for three seats out of sixty in the Irish senate, the Seanad.
Fianna F_il said no to even that, though it did suggest that nomination of emigrant representatives to the senate might be possible.
Given the numbers of Irish emigrants abroad, and those born abroad entitled to Irish citizenship, it would be impractical and inappropriate to give the vote to emigrants,” the then foreign affairs minister, Brian Cowen, said.
His successor, Dermot Ahern, didn’t move the situation forward during a recent U.S. visit. “Personally I can’t see that,” he said of the emigrant vote idea.
Enda Kenny, however, does see a glimmer on the horizon. He said at the time of the Cowen rejection that three senators should be elected by “overseas Irish citizens.”
But that was largely where the matter rested.
It was revived somewhat when a Fine Gael senator, and candidate the European Parliament, Jim Higgins, offered to give up his senate seat to a representative of the Irish community in the United Kingdom if elected to Europe. Higgins secured his seat in Strasbourg/Brussels but the offer was not taken up by the Fianna F_il/Progressive Democrats government.
Higgins subsequently accused the coalition of long-fingering his offer.
“It is patently clear that the government does not want to have an emigrant voice in parliament,” Higgins complained.
“It would not threaten the government’s senate majority in any way, and would enable the millions of voiceless Irish emigrants to have emigrant issues and welfare highlighted in parliament for the first time ever by one of their own.”
The offer from Higgins was “still on the table,” Enda Kenny told IF during his U.S. visit last week.
But beyond this Kenny would not be drawn.
He would prefer to confine voting rights to the senate. Like virtually all Irish public representatives Kenny starts to get a rash of hives when there is any suggestion of direct overseas voting rights to the entire D_il and Seanad.
Kenny raised the specter of “constitutional” problems with such a broad extension of suffrage.
Separately however, the Higgins offer was interesting in that it specified emigrants as opposed to citizens.
All Irish emigrants are citizens, but not all Irish citizens living outside the Republic are emigrants.
Irish citizens living in the North are not emigrants but they still can’t vote in the South.
Mary McAleese couldn’t vote for herself first time she ran for the Irish presidency because she was domiciled in Belfast.
This is a hint at the true nature of the Republic’s constitutional problem with extended voting rights.
Extending the right to citizens no matter where they live on the island would raise intriguing possibilities.
The DUP candidate for Cork North West?
Not to mention all those hard characters from places such as South Armagh and West Tyrone having a say in a wee republic referendum.
The North is the big gorilla here but you would be hard put to get any southern politician to say so clearly.
They would rather mutter about constitutional problems, warping effects and taxes.
But what does the Irish Constitution, Bunreacht Na h

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