Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) Submission to the Constitutional Convention
Constitutional Convention Item (iv) Giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections at Irish embassies, or otherwise.
VICA’s position: All Irish citizens abroad, including those of Irish descent, should be able to exercise the right of voting for the President of Ireland.
The inclusion of this item in the agenda of the Constitutional Agenda appears to be a welcome response to the growing concern about the extent to which Ireland is out of step with other countries in its neglect of the democratic right to the franchise of its citizens abroad. Although a welcome proposal we primarily support it as a significant way in which citizens abroad of Irish descent can be valued. For first generation emigrants from Ireland the chief goal is to extend the franchise so they can vote in general elections for the Dáil and having obtained that right would automatically be able to vote for the President and in referenda.
Why should Irish-descent citizens be able to vote in Presidential elections?
The President is a largely figurehead and symbolic role but nonetheless important for that. It can be well argued that – in combination with the The Good Friday Agreement, the Celtic Tiger and the popularity of various Irish cultural forms – a succession of Presidents of Ireland have been crucial in transforming attitudes to Ireland during the past 20 years. The last two Presidents and the present incumbent have made a particular feature of appealing to and including the Irish diaspora within the remit of their responsibilities.
Hence in extending the franchise to include those of Irish descent (who have applied for and acquired Irish citizenship) the Irish State is afforded a means of inaugurating a new phase in the relationship with its diaspora. Instead of emphasizing, what the diaspora can do for Ireland, it is an opportunity to concretely include those of Irish descent who are citizens as part of the Irish nation, to offer them in recognition of their citizenship the right to vote for the Irish President.
The stake in Ireland of someone of Irish descent is different to that of an emigrant who has left the country in which s/he was raised. Nonetheless, for someone of Irish descent, who is automatically a national of another country, to take the step of applying for an Irish passport and citizenship, is a significant act of solidarity with Ireland. The Constitutional Convention is the opportunity for Ireland to cement this relationship of the President with the diaspora and for Ireland to give a lead in diaspora strategies worldwide by including Irish descent citizens.
The method of voting should be the most inclusive possible, postal and/or online voting.