As Ireland moves towards a referendum on Presidential votes for Irish citizens living abroad, Alan Flanagan explores the common misconceptions around such a move – and why Ireland should join the 37 other European countries who allow citizens abroad a voice.
No Representation Without Taxation
This is a motto commonly heard on discussions around expanding voting rights – it’s alluring, but it doesn’t have a basis in any facts of the Irish democratic process. In its distant past, Ireland linked the right to vote with wealth and property ownership – all tied up in the ability to pay tax – but it was rightly seen as exclusive and damaging to a democracy. If those who don’t pay tax don’t get a vote, then it excludes stay-at-home parents, students, not to mention those below the tax threshold. Instead, modern Ireland has always said that no matter your means you have a vote and a voice.
Votes From Abroad Would Swamp The Vote
With so many other countries already allowing citizens abroad the right to vote, it’s given Ireland an opportunity to examine their experiences in order to predict our own—please, check out this amazing options paper . The overwhelming evidence shows that there is no swamping effect. For example, the overseas population of Great Britain is 5.8 million, with only 263,902 of those on the register. In Canada’s 2015 general election, an overseas population of 2 million was represented by 15,603 on the register – only 11,000 of whom voted. In 2013’s Australian federal elections, an overseas population of 1 million translated to 74,000 votes. Even if we assume citizens abroad all vote the same – which they don’t (see below!) – “swamping” is not borne out by the experiences of other countries.
Brexit’s Increase In Passport Applications Is Unfair
The last few years (and counting) of Brexit has led to many passport applications from Irish citizens living in the UK who may not have availed of this right before. It’s worth bearing in mind that these people are Irish citizens – in 2017, half of these people were born in Ireland, 37% were the children of Irish emigrants, with only 7% relying on the grandparent rule of citizenship. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Brexit is a temporary situation – we shouldn’t let it dictate how we want our democracy to run.
An Overseas Electorate Would Vote Differently
Irish citizens abroad represent everything that Ireland is – they are individuals, old and young, male and female, from backgrounds rural and urban, and as such they will have individual opinions about who to elect as President. There is no such thing as a typical Irish person abroad, so there is no typical Irish voting pattern for those not resident in Ireland at the time of a vote. Experiences in other countries show a tendency to hew relatively closely to the vote at home. For instance, an Irish Times poll before the recent Presidential election showed voters abroad would have voted similarly to those at home. It’s also worth bearing in mind that voters in other countries bring their own knowledge and experiences to the ballot box, ones that give them a unique perspective that can add to our own.
Citizens Abroad Aren’t Affected
At his inauguration in November President Higgins said the following: “A real republic requires a wide embrace, inclusive of all its members, in our case, all of our Irish from different generations including those who are abroad, and it must be generous in its reach.” The role of the President is a global one, engaging with the diaspora, and promoting Irish culture and influence around the world. It is deeply connected to the experiences of citizens abroad, and it makes sense for them to have a say in who represents them. On a wider level, non-resident Irish citizens are affected by political decisions made back home – decisions on healthcare and education affect their friends and family back in Ireland, while those on the economy affect their ability to move back to Ireland in the future.
The Cost Would Be Too High
In its extensive policy paper the government predicted costings for citizens abroad to cast their votes in Presidential elections, and if every citizen abroad voted it would amount to less than 0.01% of public expenditure, every 7 years. This is, of course, predicated on every citizen voting – and as shown in other countries, this is highly unlikely. What is far more likely is that it will be a minority of informed voters who choose to exercise their right, as it has been in the 37 other countries in Europe that allow such votes. On a wider note, Ireland has never been a country that places a price on democracy – it is one where the decision to extend such a right is based on moral and logical principles.
The Votes For Irish Citizens Abroad campaign believes that it is time, based on these principles, that Ireland extended the right to vote to citizens abroad. Later this year, we hope that you’ll join us in voting for deeper connections between the Irish abroad and those at home.