Political representation for Irish citizens abroad – the Constitutional Convention
It’s the 21st century, and over 115 developed countries have managed to provide national representation for their citizens abroad. I have yet to read about a state that considers their arrangement negative.
Ireland also recognises the importance of its diaspora and has launched new initiatives to further enhance the relationship. There remains however a missing piece in the jigsaw, voting rights for Irish emigrants. The upcoming Irish Constitutional Convention should resolve this.
The 2011 (25th Feb) general election partially defined the terms of reference, when the parties now in government laid out their objectives and scope for reform in this area:
Fine Gael: Minister Simon Coveney: 7th Feb 2011: Source: Simon Coveney Audio.
‘We are proposing that in the upcoming presidential election that we would allow eligible Irish citizens abroad to vote at Irish embassies, and if that is a success we hope to extend the practice to general elections so that Irish people whether they’re living in Boston, or Toronto, or Sydney, or Brussels or wherever will actually have a say in how their country is being governed‘.
Labour: Ciarán Lynch TD, 8th Feb 2011: Source: Irish Independent.
“People who have been forced to leave this country in search of work are justifiably angry and should not be denied the chance to vote on how their country is run. Currently, the only people entitled to an absentee vote are civil servants and military personnel who are working out of the country. We want this to be extended to all emigrants, at least during their first five years out of the country.”
These objectives formed part of the mandate on which election was sought and gained and whilst, when we vote, we may or may not agree with all aspects of a manifesto we accept on balance the overall package. That’s democracy, and it gives a government the authority, and responsibility, to deliver on its commitments.
Voting rights for Irish citizens abroad has subsequently been added to the remit of the Constitutional Convention, due to start this year. Given the above it is natural to expect that the convention will focus on eligibility, timelines, mechanisms, and associated criteria for both presidential AND Dail elections.
Recent back-tracking by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, where he looks to redefine the agreement made with the electorate, and remove Dail representation for Irish citizens abroad from the convention’s remit, has no justifiable basis. The arguments being put forward now were well-known in 2011, and all have answers.
When seeking election Labour and Fine Gael expressed that disenfranchisement is to be a thing of the past, it was put on the national agenda, and it should stay there. The Constitutional Convention is the vehicle to look at how it can be achieved, and should be allowed to do its job.
It’s time for a 21st century diaspora.
The Programme for Government (Government for National Recovery 2011-2016) was published after the 2011 general election. The objectives and remit of the Constitutional Convention are contained therein as follows:
We will establish a Constitutional Convention to consider comprehensive constitutional reform, with a brief to consider, as a whole or in sub-groups, and report within 12 months on the following:
• Review of our Dáil electoral system
• Reducing the presidential term to 5 years and aligning it with the local and European elections
• Provision for same-sex marriage
• Amending the clause on women in the home and encourage greater participation of women in public life
• Removing blasphemy from the Constitution
• Possible reduction of the voting age
• Other relevant constitutional amendments that may be recommended by the Convention