VICA: Arguments for Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad
Ireland has a long history of emigration. During the 19th century, and up until 1920, an estimated 6 million people were lost to the country. In the twentieth century emigration from Ireland was marked by two periods of very heavy out-migration, the 1950s and second half of the 1980s. Migration reached the point in Ireland that for many it was a potential life event, as ‘normal’ as leaving school or getting married. Altogether in the period 1949-1989 800,000 people left Ireland.
Although emigration from Ireland is generally greeted with regret nothing ever seems to change. As soon as there is a downturn in the economy emigration rises. There are attempts in some quarters in Ireland to justify emigration as a voluntary act. It is no such thing for the vast majority. Emigration on the scale that Ireland has experienced and is experiencing again cannot be accounted for as the accumulation of thousands of individual, unrelated decisions.
In addition, whether an individual emigrant’s decision can be classified as voluntary or involuntary can be largely irrelevant. Even voluntary emigration can become involuntary exile due to a lack of opportunities in Ireland to initiate return migration. The only significant periods in the last two centuries that were an exception to this were a brief period in the 1970s after Ireland joined the EU and again during the Celtic Tiger.
The current young generation in Ireland had every reason to believe they were growing up in a country where emigration was an option not a necessity. Such is not the case. Given the current state of the economy in the next few years there are likely to be still further people emigrating. Their future rights are at stake as well. These repetitive cycles of emigration amount to a hemorrhaging of talent, a waste of educational investment, great sadness and difficulties due to split families and periods of uncertainty and dislocation for the majority of emigrants.
It is for these reasons that we support Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad. We are dedicated to encouraging a wide-ranging debate on the subject.
The immediate disenfranchisement of Irish citizens as soon as they leave the country is a source of anger and frustration. Irish citizens who have had to leave have no say about the future management of the economy, and no say in the direction the country should take in the 21st century. At this time of national economic crisis for Ireland there have been many calls for changes in the political system and culture. One way to achieve change is to extend the franchise to include citizens living abroad.
Article 16 of the Irish Constitution states that:
All citizens, and such persons in the State as may be determined by law, without distinction of sex who have reached the age of eighteen years who are not disqualified by law and comply with the provisions of the law relating to the election of members of Dáil Éireann, shall have the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann.
However, if you are an Irish citizen living abroad you cannot be entered on the Register of electors. Exception is made in the case of Irish officials on duty abroad (and their spouses) who may register on the postal voters list.
To demand votes for Irish citizens abroad is not an extraordinary thing. Many people feel this is a measure that is long overdue. At least 115 other countries around the world, including the USA and most of Europe, provide for their citizens abroad to retain the franchise. Countries in Europe as diverse as Spain, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom allow their citizens abroad to vote in national elections. Ireland stands out as particularly restrictive.
Most emigrants maintain close connections not only with family and friends still in Ireland but with news from Ireland, this gets ever easier with a proliferation of social media. Many emigrants are trying to sustain living between two countries in order not to force entire families to emigrate. Others are sending remittances home regularly. Return migration is the goal of most people. In all these ways citizens abroad are demonstrating their ongoing involvement in and commitment to Ireland. They remain stakeholders in Irish society.
Enda Kenny admits that it is unlikely that any significant return migration will be achievable until well after 2016. Do citizens abroad have to endure years of enforced loss of the franchise? They could be exercising their vote in order to encourage changes that might produce an Ireland that many could return to.
What are the main options for discussion? What are the dimensions of the debate?
- Who votes?
- all citizens abroad?
- first generation emigrants only?
- first generation emigrants for a specific time period?
- Voting for what?
- The President
- The Dáil
- The Seanad
- How can this extension of the franchise be implemented?
- reserved constituencies?
- vote where last registered?
- postal votes?
- special polling stations abroad?
- internet voting?
VICA Meeting, Saturday 31 March 2012
The purpose of the meeting is to hold a round-table discussion with other people active, or interested in becoming active, on this issue. The Irish government is expected to announce a date for a Constitutional Convention later this year. The 1st July this year will be the 75th anniversary of the Constitution. This is an opportune moment to step up our efforts. VICA wants to join forces with as many like-minded people as possible.
VICA plans to make a representation to the Convention. The arguments set out above are intended to stimulate debate towards developing a concrete proposal. Our other main aim is to grow support for the campaign.
We welcome your comments and thoughts and very much hope you can join us on 31 March.
Meeting to be held 2-5pm (sandwiches and refreshments available from 1.30pm),
at the New Horizon Youth Centre, 68 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JR.
Please use door on right-hand side of the building.