Category: Archive

Inside File: What Mexicans have, Irish don’t

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Now the chances are that a mere simple majority in such a vote would not quite decide the issue. Given the way that peace process politics are heading it would not be surprising if the question posed in such a referendum required something more than 50 percent plus one in order to pass. It would need, say, a two-thirds majority, or something on those lines.
Despite all the turmoil caused by partition there would be no guarantee that such a mark would be attained. Some voters in the Republic would be very wary indeed of having a border, however porous it might be, suddenly vanish overnight.
The reasons for voting against unity might be economic. They might be based on the fear of suddenly having all those unruly northern loyalists as even closer neighbors.
Some in the republic would even feel guilty about shoving unity down the throat of unionism.
Up North, meanwhile, you would expect an overwhelmingly negative reaction from unionists and at least reluctance from a significant number of Catholic voters who feel they are doing quite nicely in the United Kingdom, thank you very much.
So a unity plebiscite would not a done deal. It might be very close. It might even come down to the votes of Irish and North-born Irish and British passport holders living overseas.
If that was the case the latter would have the whip hand. Quite simply, the South-born Irish passport holders, under current rules, would not be able to vote.
To balance things up a bit, Irish passport holders from the North whose names had been entered on the voting register for the previous, or during the previous 10 years, would be entitled to vote.
As such, the unity issue would be clouded by irony. People from the part of the island that fought successfully for partial independence would be denied any say in the possible completion of the task.
That’s the situation as it stands today.
The Republic is alone among European Union nations in entirely denying voting to its citizens living abroad. Irish diplomat and military personnel posted overseas can vote. But for the great bulk of emigrants, leaving Ireland entails having virtually no voice in the political life of the country.
For thousands of Irish in the U.S. who are undocumented, this means having no voting rights at all, anywhere.
The overseas vote issue managed to gain some traction in the U.S. and Britain in the late 1990s but fizzled out as the century turned. Many who were agitating in the U.S. ended up returning to the outstretched paws of the Celtic Tiger.
Not surprisingly, political will in Ireland itself to correct the voting anomaly as been sporadic at best, this despite the fact that Fianna F_il, the dominant party in the current government, is on the record as favoring votes for emigrants.
The party’s 1997 election manifesto, “People Before Politics,” stated that Fianna F_il 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.”
Noble words on what is now a very dusty shelf. And words that now have an even more hollow ring since the news in recent days that lawmakers in Mexico have given the nod to voting rights for millions of Mexicans, legal and illegal, who are living in the U.S.
Now any student of international politics will tell you that while things have been improving, Mexico hasn’t been exactly a shining beacon of democracy since independence — first from Spain and later France — was achieved in the late 19th century. Indeed, protests for greater freedoms were not infrequently put down with bullets.
Still, change has swept over the land in more recent times with the oxymoronically named Institutional Revolutionary Party being forced to give ground to other groups, not least (Irish-Mexican) President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party.
Both parties have gone along with the plan to extend postal voting rights across the Rio Grande in time for next year’s presidential election.
But they had to be pushed and prodded by Mexican immigrant campaigners in the U.S. who, unlike their Irish counterparts, have been less inclined to return to a Mexico that is yet to attain the status of an Irish-style tiger economy — one with virtually zero unemployment.
The approval for a practical method of casting ballots from beyond Mexico’s borders has been hailed by emigrant Mexians as historic, and a triumph for civil rights.
Oddly, many Irish in the U.S., legal and undocumented, don’t get nearly as worked up over the lack of voting rights in their original homeland.
Indeed some will voice very fervent opposition to the idea that they should be allowed a say in the future political direction of the 26 counties.
Nevertheless, some Irish politicians, mostly in the Irish Senate, have indicated a receptiveness to at least limited voting rights for the oft-lauded diaspora.
The link between a lack of voting rights and the plight of the undocumented in the U.S. is evident enough, meanwhile.
Quite clearly, if the undocumented could vote it would give them a voice they currently do not possess in either jurisdiction.
In fairness, some Irish politicians have shown greater interest in the undocumented in recent months even though no votes are available as quid pro quos.
Still, the overall lethargy and apathy over what should be a key issue in any democracy is puzzling. It lends credence to an emerging view of southern Ireland as a heads-down, bread and circuses society driven by what could only be described as pre-packaged politics lite.
Of course “IF” could be absolutely wrong in this. Perhaps, at this very minute, Ireland’s assorted institutional revolutionary parties are cooking up a wild and imaginative plan to deliver the means to vote to people who yet qualify as citizens of a truly democratic republic. Then again…

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