My Speech at the VotingRights.ie Press Conference

Emigration is a central part of Ireland’s history. Although it became particularly prominent during the Great Famine, emigration has continued throughout the decades in spite of Ireland’s evolution and development. Even today, emigration remains to be a defining characteristic of our culture.

During the recession emigration peaked at 50,900 in 2013.

Ireland’s recovery has seen these numbers steadily decline as only 40,700 Irish nationals emigrated in 2014, 35,100 in 2015 and 31, 800 in 2016.

Furthermore, there was a significant increase in the number of Irish nationalist emigrants returning to Ireland. The CSO recorded that 21,100 Irish emigrants returned in April 2016, an increase of 9000 since the previous year.

Irish citizens living abroad still retain their national ties. Many will have emigrated during the recession years in order to look for work, still seeking to remain part of Irish society and possibly return home in the future. The increase of those returning to Ireland in recent years following a period of time living abroad argues this point further.

The high numbers of Irish emigrants, no doubt, gives grounds to consider and debate the voting rights of Irish citizens abroad. Despite having emigrated, many still consider themselves truly Irish and they would cherish the ability to make important decisions about their country and play a part in Irish society.

The Convention on the Constitution in its Fifth Report, submitted to the Oireachtas in November 2013, recommended that the constitution be amended to provide for citizens resident outside the State, including Northern Ireland, to have the right to vote at presidential elections.

Irish citizens abroad and their advocates at home would , no doubt, have been pleased to hear that a referendum, regarding whether or not Irish citizens abroad will be able to vote in Irish Presidential Elections, will be held in the future.

This announcement by Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, during his recent trip to Philadelphia gave historic recognition to the strong and lasting links between Ireland and all its citizens.

However, such important changes do not come without legal and logistical challenges. Such factors no doubt hinder the ability to fast track such changes to our constitution.

For example, the duration of a presidential election, which currently stands at 60 days, may have to be extended by a considerable amount of time to facilitate those voting from outside of the state.

Additionally, a debate will be required to determine which citizens living outside the state will be granted the right to vote in Irish Presidential elections.

Furthermore, if the referendum to allow citizens living abroad to vote in Presidential elections passes, the registration of voters living abroad, a crucial requirement, would be a significant and time consuming task.

Regardless, the government has recognised the need to hold a referendum.

Furthermore, the government has also recognised that in developing a policy in relation to the extension of the right to vote in presidential elections, there is also the need to consider other priorities identified by Government including; Seanad reform, the establishment of an Electoral Commission and the Government’s policy on Diaspora.

Recommendations from European Union Level must also be considered in order for Ireland to match the standards and procedures of other EU states where appropriate, such as the EU Commission Recommendation in 2014 that citizen residing in other EU member states, exercising their right to free travel, should not be disenfranchised at national elections.

Furthermore, the government has recognised, in its Options Paper published in March this year, that regard must be given to campaigns for extending voting rights at Dáil elections and at referendums, naming VotingRights.ie in this Options Paper.

The Global Irish Civic Forum provides an opportunity for campaigns, such as the one led by VotingRights.ie, to discuss their objectives, reasoning’s and findings. These discussions and debates are integral in finding solutions for the Irish abroad and I look forward to hearing VotingRights.ie’s policy paper and reform agenda on emigrant voting.

I anticipate that it will be an important piece of work which will no doubt be considered when emigrant voting rights come under discussion for reform.

Although it may be argued that Ireland is behind other states with regards to its voting rights for citizens living abroad, Ireland does offer some, albeit limited, access for certain citizens abroad. Citizens may be eligible for a postal vote if they are: an Irish diplomat or his/her spouse posted abroad, a member of the Garda Síochána, or a whole-time member of the Defence Forces.

Furthermore, we must consider that although a number of other states do offer voting rights to ex-patriots, not all of these states offer the same rights. Not every state that does grant these rights grants them in an unlimited fashion. For example, French ex-patriots enjoy the same voting rights as French citizens living in France, while British citizens living abroad may only vote in UK General Elections, referendums and European Parliament elections for up to 15 years after leaving the UK.

Therefore, it is evident that states which have granted citizens living abroad the right to vote in their home country have done so in such a way that that compliments and fits the ideals of their state.

Therefore, we must put time and effort into considering the possibility of such rights becoming available for Irish citizens living abroad. We must ensure any changes to Ireland’s voting rights will produce the best possible outcome for the Irish state.

Yes this is an important topic of discussion, but it is one we must allocate sufficient time and resources to.

 

 

© Catherine Noone – Dublin Senator 2011. | Wordpress Webdesign by: exSite