Ben: ‘The presidency is just as relevant for citizens…
I was born in Derry, and am a child of the peace process. In the crucial years after the Good Friday Agreement, we were proud to have Belfast-born Mary McAleese serving as President of Ireland. She symbolised the new relationships being built between north and south, nationalists and unionists, Ireland and Britain.
Since coming to work in London, I am of a generation of young Irish people who are more engaged with politics at home than ever before, and we take pride in the international image of President Higgins, who does so much to represent the Irish around the world.
An upcoming referendum will ask whether or not Irish citizens living outside the state should be allowed to vote in presidential elections.
Currently, Ireland is in the minority of countries who does not permit voting rights to citizens abroad. As an Irish citizen born in Northern Ireland, and who currently lives in London, the present system has let me down on two fronts.
No one can deny that I am as Irish in Derry or London as I am in Dublin. My passport is green no matter where I am in the world. And yet, I was unable to vote for Mary McAleese in Derry, and I was unable to vote for President Higgins in London.
The office of the presidency is as relevant to Irish citizens outside the state as it is to those at home, and to extend voting rights accordingly would be a hugely symbolic inclusion which I believe would enrich our republic.
I know some will argue that only those who live in the state should get the vote, but being Irish has never been about residency. We are renowned for taking our identity to the far ends of the world – often through economic necessity – championing our talents, humour and generosity of spirit as we go.
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And in the past decade, citizens like me have been drawn closer to home, through the landmark referendums on marriage equality and abortion, through the growth of social media and online communities, and through the disaster of Brexit, which is seeing many in Northern Ireland increasingly turning towards Dublin.
A new Ireland is being born, and we want to be a part of it. The presidency is the ideal way to forge our enduring connections and be part of a shared future.
For no longer is the Aras seen as a retirement gift for grandees of establishment parties – instead, the office is one which symbolises all the Irish people as they see themselves in this modern, globalised era. The role of the president is evolving, and so the franchise should too.