By Ray O’Hanlon
The craziest headline you’ve ever seen? Paisley in the Dáil might indeed be far-fetched notion now, but given present events it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Northern voters will someday send politicians to Leinster House. The revamped Articles 2 & 3 of the Irish Constitution proclaim that you are as Irish as you want to be — assuming you meet certain legal criteria. One criterion is being born in the Six Counties. Under the new citizenship laws, people from the North will no longer have to go through extra procedures before they can get an Irish passport. Instead, they will be automatically regarded as citizens of the Republic.
The changes to Articles 2 & 3 were prompted by a new way of looking at the issue of sovereignty over landmass. The Irish nation is now being defined in terms of people, not acreage. This new emphasis has profound implications for Irish-born members of the diaspora, not least those living in the U.S.
The new Article 2 reads: "It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born on the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with the law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage."
With regard to voting rights for emigrants, there might be a conflict in that paragraph between the concepts of "entitlement," "birthright" and "nation" and what passes currently as "the law." But assuming the best of intentions, it would seem that the Irish government is now defining membership of the Irish nation in a truly global sense. And if you qualify as a member of the nation, then you should be entitled to vote, even if you happen to be living off the nation’s landmass.
The matter of voting rights for the Irish-born living outside the Republic is an issue that won’t quite go away. Indeed, the revised articles raise the matter to a higher level than heretofore, not least in Northern Ireland, where by no means everyone is indifferent to the scrapping of de Valera’s territorial claim to the Six Counties.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
In fairness, the current Irish government has acknowledged the need for broad reform, not least with regard to the North. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern wrote a while ago to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution asking it to explore "how people living in Northern Ireland might play a more active part in the national political life."
"I would ask you." Ahern said. "to have the committee actively consider the proposals that MPs elected in the North should be entitled to sit in the Dáil and that Irish citizens living in the North should be entitled to vote in presidential elections and referendums."
This is where Big Ian comes in. No doubt he would rant, rave and reject a Dublin seat. But his successors in the heartland of Ulster Says No-ism might well be tempted by fat Southern salaries and pensions, especially if they came in the form of neutral Euros.
Stamp Act, part two
There’s hardly a politician left on either side of the Atlantic who hasn’t been pulled into the frame by the Commodore Barry Club of Brooklyn in the matter of a proposed stamp honoring John Barry, the "Father of the American Navy." The club wants a commemorative stamp to be issued on both sides of the pond in 2003, the 200th anniversary of the Wexford native’s death. The Irish post office seems to favor the idea, but early indications from the U.S. Postal Service were somewhat negative.
Back in early November, several Brooklyn-based pols received letters from the Postal Service apparently delivering the thumbs-down to the Barry stamp proposal. "The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee has previously reviewed the proposal . . . however, it was not recommended for issuance," the letter blandly stated.
The Barry Club’s legal counsel, Dennis McMahon, was quick to inform "IF" that he was not discouraged.
"I have just begun to fight," he said back in mid-November.
He didn’t have to slug it out for long. With the stamps hardly stuck to the envelopes of the first batch of rejection letters, the Postal Service followed up with a not-so-negative note. A copy to various politicians, and McMahon himself, from Terence McCaffrey, the acting manager, Stamp Development, read in part: "The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee has previously reviewed the nomination of John Barry, but it was not recommended for issuance. However, in light of continued interest in this subject, the nomination will again be placed before the Committee." McMahon is now busy lining up members of Congress, like so many ships of the line, behind his cause.
Bring back Bond
It’s been a bad few months for the various British intelligence services, what with the scandal over bugging Irish telephone calls and so forth. Now we have a bug in Gerry Adams’s car raising all sorts of sticky questions.
Tony Blair — whose recent New Yorker appeal to potentially naughty Irish Americans largely alluded to dirty tricks on this side of the Atlantic — declined to answer questions on the Adams bugging case in the House of Commons. And this on top of a recent Sunday Times ripper which began thus: "A whistleblower from one of the most secret intelligence cells in the British Army has revealed that it tried to destroy police evidence by burgling and burning the operations center of a high-powered investigation into collusion between the security forces and loyalists."
Blair can roll with the punches from the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times, but a broadside from the New York Times is a far more serious matter.
Times columnist Anthony Lewis last week delved into the affair of British journalist Tony Geraghty and his book, "The Irish War," a tome that includes a few nasty secrets. Wrote Lewis: "In a book on a long-running civil conflict, the author briefly describes how his government uses surveillance systems to trace suspected enemies of the state. He is arrested, charged with a serious crime, his house ransacked, his papers seized.
"Did this happen in China, or perhaps Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore? No, it happened in Tony Blair’s Britain. It is an astonishing story, and it discloses a dirty little secret. The Blair government has authoritarian instincts."
Dear oh dear oh dear.