Prof. Mary Hickman’s speech from the VICA public meeting
VICA Meeting 29 October 2011
Speech by Prof. Mary Hickman, Chairperson
Who we are and what we want
The Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) campaign is made up of a mix of people: migrants and second generation; a spread of ages; people newly over and others who have lived here decades; and people from the north and the south. Our basic premise is that all Irish citizens should be able to vote in General Elections, referenda and for the President. This is in line with what the Irish constitution asserts:
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. (Article 16)
The current interpretation of this Constitutional statement is that only citizens who are also residents can vote. So if you are an Irish citizen living abroad you cannot be entered on the Register of Electors.
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 all citizens living abroad. We think that all those forced to leave deserve a say in what happens next.
Why I support the campaign
I think the issues raised by VICA’s campaign problematise the relationship of Ireland to its diaspora. The idea of diaspora questions the cultural and historical mechanics of belonging and undermines the idea that national identitifications must be firmly rooted to territory to be authentic.
Diasporic identities – for example, feeling Irish in England, or feeling British-Irish in either/both Ireland and Britain – are on the increase globally. These diaspora identities are positive as they can help bring about social change, both in the place of settlement (for example, having an Irish category introduced in the 2001 Census in England and Wales) or in the place of origin (for example, reviewing and debating the restrictions on the franchise of citizens in Ireland).
Ireland is out of step with the rest of the EU
Ireland is out of step with the rest of Europe and much of the world.
British citizens living in Ireland vote in both the elections for the Dail and for Westminster. Why is the same set of rights not extended to Irish citizens living in the United Kingdom (UK). For British citizens the right to vote in General Elections in the UK is restricted to 15 years after leaving. The UK is one of the few countries that restricts the right in this way and this is now being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights by a British citizen resident in Spain.
To take another example, France, the rights of its citizens abroad have recently been transformed, having previously been time restricted as in the UK. Legislation has been passed to give French citizens who live abroad their own MPs in the 2012 national elections. The law creates 11 constituencies for citizens abroad. One constituency covers Ireland, the UK, Scandinavia and the Baltic states – the majority live in the UK and campaign offices are already established in South Kensington, an area in which many French people live and the site of various French institutions, like the Charles de Gaulle lycée.
So the issue of votes for Irish citizens abroad is not solely prompted by the anger and frustration of those leaving Ireland now in increasing numbers but it is also a more general issue of bringing the rights of Irish citizens in line with those of other countries.
We have been in contact with all the Presidential candidates running in October’s election for the Presidency and had a range of responses from enthusiastic to cautious welcome. In the coming months we hope with your help to be involved in the following activities: approaching well-known figures amongst the Irish in Britain for support; fundraising; signing up online new members of the campaign; bringing up to 4 or 5 more people on to the campaign organizing committee; preparing a submission to the Constitutional Convention promised in Ireland for 2012.